Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. These bacteria are spread by the bite of a tick. Ticks are small, ranging from the size of a poppy seed to a pea. The size of the tick varies depending on its age and whether it has fed recently. The bite is usually painless so you may not know that you have been bitten.


Initial symptoms differ from person to person, which makes Lyme disease very difficult to diagnose. Some people may have no symptoms at all. Others may suffer severe symptoms, but not for weeks after the bite, therefore may not associate the illness with the bite. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can begin your recovery.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Symptoms of Lyme disease can include one or a combination of the following with varying degrees of severity:

  • fatigue
  • fever or chills
  • headache
  • spasms or weakness
  • numbness or tingling
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • skin rash

Additional symptoms can include:

  • cognitive dysfunction (brain fog) or dizziness
  • nervous system disorders
  • arthritis/arthritic symptoms (muscle and joint pain)
  • abnormal heartbeat

Untreated, symptoms can last months to years. They can include recurring arthritis (muscle and joint pain), nervous system and/or neurological problems. Symptoms can also include numbness and/or paralysis (unable to move parts of the body). Although not common, fatalities from Lyme disease have been reported.

What is the risk to Canadians?

The risk of getting a tick bite starts when the weather warms up in the spring, through until the fall. Ticks can also be active in the winter, if the winter is mild and there is not much snow. However, the greatest risk occurs during the spring and summer months.

Blacklegged ticks are most often found in forests as well as overgrown areas between woods and open spaces. Because tick populations are spreading, it is possible to be bitten outside of these locations.

Who is most at risk?

If you work outdoors or participate in outdoor activities, you may be at a greater risk for tick bites. When engaging in the following activities, you should take precautions against tick bites:

  • golfing
  • hunting
  • camping
  • fishing
  • hiking

Where in Canada are you at risk?

Blacklegged ticks are most often found in:

  • southern British Columbia
  • southeastern and south-central Manitoba
  • southern, eastern and northwestern Ontario
  • southern Quebec
  • southern New Brunswick and Grand Manan Island
  • parts of Nova Scotia

How can Lyme disease be prevented?

The best way to protect against Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Check this detailed map to find out where Lyme-infected ticks are confirmed to be found. Remember, as tick populations grow, Lyme disease can be acquired outside these areas. Here are some ways to protect yourself if you venture into forests or overgrown areas:

  • wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • pull socks over pant legs
  • wear light-coloured clothes to spot ticks easier
  • use insect repellent containing DEET (active ingredient to keep bugs away) or Icaridin (always follow directions)
  • shower or bathe within 2 hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks
  • do a daily "full-body" check for ticks on yourself, children and pets
  • Wear your Shaidee Sun Cover with the Shaidee Bug to prevent ticks getting to your baby

Ticks can be infected with more than one type of bacteria that can cause human illness. Guarding against tick bites will protect you from more than just Lyme disease.

How can you reduce tick habitats near your home?

Keep your lawn and yard well maintained to prevent ticks from living near your home:

  • keep the grass mowed
  • remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn and around stonewalls and woodpiles
  • discourage rodent activity by cleaning up and sealing stonewalls and small openings around the home
  • move firewood piles and bird feeders away from the house
  • keep your pets, particularly dogs, out of the woods and talk to your vet about tick repellents for your pets
  • move children's swing sets and sandboxes away from the woodland's edge and place them on a woodchip or mulch foundation
  • adopt hard landscape practices, use hard materials like stone and metals instead of soft materials like soil for planting

What should I do if I have been bitten by a blacklegged tick?

Ticks attach themselves to the skin. Removing ticks within 24 to 36 hours usually prevents infection. Using clean tweezers, grasp the head as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull straight out. Afterwards, wash the site of the bite with soap and water or disinfect with alcohol or hand sanitizer. If mouthparts break off and remain in the skin, remove them with tweezers. If you are unable to remove them easily, leave them alone and let the skin heal.

If possible, save the tick in a zip-lock bag and record the date of the bite. If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease in the weeks after being bitten, contact your health care provider right away. Bring the tick with you to your medical appointment, as it may help the doctor assess your illness.

Thanks Health Canada: for all the information!

Written by Jane Klugman — June 05, 2015

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