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Public Health Reminder: Lyme disease

Why you should take note

Lyme disease is a serious illness that is 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.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme DiseaseExternal site is a serious illness which can be spread by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.

Risk to Canadians

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.

People can come into contact with ticks while participating in outdoor activities, such as golfing, hiking, camping or gardening. Contact occurs when people and animals brush up against the vegetation found in forests and the overgrown areas between the woods and open spaces.

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. They are most abundant in the following locations:

  • 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

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.

How to protect yourself

Canadians are encouraged to spend time outdoors, be active, and to remember to protect themselves against tick bites by taking these simple steps:

  • Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • Pull socks over pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up legs
  • Wear light-coloured clothes to spot ticks easier
  • Use insect repellents that contain DEET (active ingredient to keep bugs away) or Icaridin. Repellents can be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin. Always read and follow label directions
  • Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks
  • Do a daily “full body” check for ticks on yourself, children and pets
  • If you find a tick on your skin, removing it within 24-36 hours of the tick bite usually prevents infectionExternal site

Symptoms

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 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.

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 and arthritic symptoms (muscle and joint pain)
  • abnormal heartbeat

Untreated, symptoms can last months to years. They can 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 health care 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. It may help the doctor assess your illness.

What the Public Health Agency of Canada is doing

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. The Agency developed an Action Plan on Lyme DiseaseExternal site that serves to lessen the disease’s impact through a number of activities, including:

  • increasing Lyme disease awareness among Canadians and sharing information on how to protect themselves;
  • collaborating with family practitioners to enhance their knowledge and capacity for prompt diagnosis and treatment;
  • enhancing surveillance to improve the current data of where the disease is emerging and where populations are at risk; and
  • developing information for public health practitioners on surveillance, prevention and control.

Additional information

Media Contact

Public Health Agency of Canada
Media Relations
613-957-2983