Tick season has arrived in Canada — how ticks spread Lyme disease

How to protect yourself, your kids and your pets from tick bites.

red and white warning sign beware of ticks against tree in forest
Tick season is around the corner — what to know about ticks and Lyme disease (Image via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Tick season has officially arrived in Canada.

Ticks thrive in temperatures 4°C and higher, but they have been shown to survive in colder climates. With warm weather on the horizon, the risk of contracting a tick bite is higher, as black-legged ticks are most active in the spring.

Ticks season falls between April and June and peaks again in September through November, according to Vett Lloyd, a researcher and director of the Lloyd Tick Lab at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

In a 2022 interview with The Canadian Press, Lloyd said, "ticks are surviving better, and they have more time to feed and have a tick romance," thanks to milder and shorter winters.

Ticks and Lyme disease

While the risk of contracting Lyme disease from ticks is low, Canada has seen a steep rise in reported Lyme disease cases in recent years.

Between 2020 and 2021, the number of reported Lyme disease cases increased by 150 per cent — however, that number could be even higher since some cases may be "undetected" or "unreported" to the federal government.

In 2022, provincial public health units reported 2,168 human cases of Lyme disease in Canada.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, spread through bites from an infected tick.

tick bug on green grass against green background
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness. (Image via Getty Images.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body but are often found in the groin, armpits and scalp and must typically be attached to the body for 36 to 48 hours before Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.

What are symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu. Within the first three to 30 days after a tick bite, a person can experience fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and fatigue.

A rash (Erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite can occur in about 70 to 80 per cent of infections, on average a week after infection. The rash can grow up to 12 inches in size and may feel warm or hot to the touch.

tick on skin with red circle around tick bite
One of the tell-tale signs of Lyme disease is a red circle around a tick bite. (Image via Getty Images)

Days to months after infection, symptoms can progress to include a severe headache, neck stiffness, additional rashes may develop on other areas of the body.

Facial palsy, arthritis, nerve pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, shooting pains or tingling in the hands or feet as well as problem with short-term memory.

Why are tick bites bad, and what to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, the Mayo Clinic suggests removing the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, and seal the tick in a container and keep in the freezer. If you develop symptoms within a few days, bring the tick with you to your doctor.

Wash your hands and the bite site with warm water, soap or rubbing alcohol.

Contact your doctor if you are unable to remove the tick as soon as possible, if a rash appears and gets bigger or the bite site gets infected.

How do you prevent tick bites?

While there is no human vaccine against Lyme disease, the best form of protection from Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites.

mother spraying son with bug spray outside in woods on hike
Protecting yourself against ticks and performing thorough checks of yourself and your pets can help prevent Lyme disease. (Image via Getty Images)

Before going outdoors, be sure to spray yourself and clothing with a bug repellent that contains DEET. You can also find U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved insect repellent to suit your needs. If you’re an avid camper or hiker, you can treat your clothing and gear with products that contain 0.5 per cent permethrin that will last for several washings to ensure your protection.

Be sure to examine yourself thoroughly for ticks around your hairline, ears, armpits, groin, belly button and the back of your legs for ticks once you return indoors. The CDC suggests showering to help wash off potentially unattached ticks that you may not have seen. Examine your clothes and if possible, put them in the dryer for at least ten minutes to kill any ticks that may have made their way indoors.

vet pulling tick off dog's ear
Pets are often carriers of ticks. (Image via Getty Images)

Ticks often migrate through animals, meaning your pet could be a carrier or ticks into your home. Aside from asking your vet about a suitable tick prevention product, be sure to check your pet around the ears, eyelids, tail, collar and under their legs for ticks.

Reduce ticks in your backyard

While many people used to believe you had to travel into a wooded area to come across ticks, many ticks are living right in their own backyard.

You can help reduce the possibility of ticks by ensuring that your lawn and property is not a suitable environment for ticks. Make sure your lawn is frequently mowed, trees and bushes trimmed to allow for sunlight (which ticks don’t like) and remove any weeds or brush from your yard. Remove any excess furniture and keep swing-sets and garbage away from wooded areas.

Additionally, you can create a barrier around your property of wooden chips or gravel to restrict tick movement and migration into the rest of your lawn.

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