Lyme disease is a serious illness that’s present in Canada and spreading. Canadians at risk from Lyme disease include those, who live, work and/or play in close proximity to ticks that spread the disease.
If not identified and treated early, Lyme disease can cause serious health issues. But there are simple and effective measures you can take to protect against it.
As you prepare to spend time outdoors, learn more about Lyme disease and how to prevent it.
Lyme disease is a serious illness which can be spread by the bite of blacklegged ticks that are infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
In regions where blacklegged ticks are found, people can come into contact with ticks by brushing against vegetation while participating in outdoor activities, such as golfing, hiking, camping and gardening.
While not all blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease, populations of infected blacklegged ticks are growing. This means that the risk of contracting Lyme disease is on the rise across Canada.
Blacklegged ticks can be active throughout much of the year; however, your risk of a tick bite is highest in the spring and summer months. Take steps to reduce your risk if you spend time outdoors in areas where there may be ticks. As ticks are very small and their bites are usually painless, you may not know you’ve been bitten, so it’s important to be on the lookout for ticks and the symptoms of Lyme disease.
Where are ticks found?
Blacklegged ticks are most often found in forests and the overgrown areas between the woods and open spaces, although it’s possible to be bitten outside of these areas. The following are areas where blacklegged tick populations have been confirmed or are establishing:
Ticks don’t move far by themselves but they can attach to migratory birds, and may fall off far from their original location. For this reason, it’s possible to find infected ticks in other areas than the ones listed above. Surveillance is ongoing to confirm other areas of spread.
Canadians are encouraged to spend time outdoors, be active and to remember to protect themselves against tick bites and Lyme disease. Ticks can be infected with more than one type of bacteria that can cause human illness, hence guarding against tick bites will protect you from more than just Lyme disease.
Here are some ways to protect yourself if you venture into forests or overgrown areas between the woods and open spaces:
Initial symptoms differ from person to person, and some people will not experience any symptoms, which makes Lyme disease very difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, others may experience mild symptoms like fever or a skin rash soon after being bitten, while others may suffer severe symptoms, but not for weeks after the bite.
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can include one or a combination of the following with varying degrees of severity:
Untreated, symptoms can last years and include recurring arthritis, neurological problems, numbness and paralysis. Although not common, fatalities from Lyme disease have been reported.
If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your healthcare provider right away, as the earlier you receive a diagnosis, the greater the chance of a successful treatment. If you saved the tick that bit you, bring it with you to your medical appointment as it may help the doctor in assessing your illness.
Getting a diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult because symptoms vary from one person to another and may be similar to other infectious diseases that are spread by ticks. Your healthcare provider will likely:
Your symptoms are a really important part of getting a diagnosis, because lab results may not always detect Lyme disease in the early stages, or if you were recently on antibiotics. Blood tests are clearer when the disease is further along. All lab tests have a margin of error which is why Lyme disease should be diagnosed by a doctor clinically first and foremost. Results of lab tests can be used as supportive evidence.
Lyme disease can be effectively treated with two to four weeks of antibiotics. Depending on your symptoms, and if you are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, you may require a longer course of antibiotics.
Some people experience symptoms that continue more than six months after treatment. Research continues into the causes of these persistent symptoms and methods of treatment.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is committed to working with provincial health authorities and other partners to address the risks to Canadians posed by Lyme disease through a number of activities:
The Agency has also recently developed a three-year Action Plan on Lyme Disease that serves to lessen the disease’s impact through continued and enhanced stakeholder engagement, public and clinician education, and enhanced surveillance, as well as research, to improve diagnosis.
Public Health Agency of Canada