Ticked off: avoiding Lyme disease

Lyme disease, caused by the bite of the blacklegged tick, can have severe symptoms, but it can be treated effectively if caught early. Blacklegged ticks are found in many areas across Canada, including southern and eastern Ontario, and their population has increased at Toronto Pearson and surrounding areas. Avoiding their bites is the first line of defense.

Avoiding ticks means avoiding where they hang out, including vegetation like grass, shrubs and leaf litter. Blacklegged ticks are very small and are most often found in forests and the overgrown areas between the woods and open spaces, although it is possible to be bitten outside of these areas. The greatest chance of getting Lyme disease through contact with ticks is during the spring and summer months.

What you can do to avoid tick bites

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Here are some ways to protect yourself if you venture into forests or overgrown areas:

  • Cover up by wearing protective clothing like close-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • Pull your socks over your pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs
  • Wear light-coloured clothes to make spotting ticks easier
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET or Icaridin on your skin and clothing -- always read and follow label directions
  • Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks
  • Do daily "full body" checks for ticks on yourself, your children and pets

What to do if you get bitten

If you find a tick attached to your skin, make sure you remove it carefully as follows:

  • Use clean tweezers, grasp the head as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly straight out
  • Afterwards, wash the bite site with soap and water or disinfect with alcohol hand sanitizer
  • If mouthparts break off, remove them with tweezers or, if you are unable to remove them easily, leave it alone and let the skin heal

For more information, visit the Canada.ca Lyme disease prevention toolkit.