Lyme borreliosis or “Lyme disease” is a tick-borne illness caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. This bacterium is hosted primarily by small rodents, and is passed to humans by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Ticks cannot fly – they hang onto small bushes or tall grasses and are usually found close to the ground. They wait for an animal or person to pass near them and when they make contact, the ticks attach themselves to the skin to feed.
High-risk areas in Canada include southern British Columbia, southeastern and south-central Manitoba, southern and eastern Ontario, southern Quebec, southern New Brunswick, and parts of Nova Scotia, usually in forested and overgrown areas.
Your risk of a tick bite is highest in the spring and summer months. However, these insects can be active throughout much of the year.
Signs and symptoms
Because the ticks are small, their bites are usually painless, and you may not know you’ve been bitten. With Lyme disease on the rise, it’s important to be on the lookout for ticks and to know the signs and symptoms of the disease.
The symptoms and severity of Lyme disease can vary from person to person. A circular rash, often referred to as a “bull’s eye” rash because it will have rings spreading from the bite site, may appear three days to a month after infection. The appearance of this rash is a sure sign of a tick bite. If you have this rash or any other symptoms of Lyme disease, you should see a doctor and explain that you have been in an area where you may have been exposed to ticks.
Others symptoms include:
- fever or chills
- muscle spasms or weakness
- numbness or tingling
- swollen lymph nodes
- difficulty thinking or remembering, or dizziness
- joint pain
- abnormal heart beat
Ticks generally take 24 hours or longer after they contact the body to begin feeding. Remove ticks within 24-36 hours to reduce your risk of infection with Lyme disease.
- Using needle-nose tweezers, firmly grasp the tick, as close to your skin as possible. Pull the tick away from your skin with a steady motion without squeezing or twisting it as this can cause the harmful bacteria to be released into the body. Clean the area with soap and water.
- Avoid handling ticks with bare hands. Use disposable gloves, paper toweling or tweezers.
- After handling ticks, discard gloves and paper toweling, and wash hands and tweezers thoroughly.
- Save the tick for testing. Put it in a sealed container or double zip lock bag. Bring the tick to your doctor or your local health unit office to be sent for testing for Lyme disease.
- Wash and dry work clothes in a hot dryer to kill any ticks present.
- Provide workers with training about Lyme disease: how it’s spread, the risks of exposure and infection, how they can protect themselves from ticks, and why it is important to report all tick bites and related illnesses.
- Recommend that workers wear light coloured clothing: long-sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into their socks, and a hat when possible.
- Provide workers with repellents containing 20-30 per cent DEET or Icaridin to use on their skin and clothing for protection against ticks.
- When possible, have workers avoid working at sites with woods, bushes, tall grass and leaf litter.
- If work in these higher-risk areas can’t be avoided, try to reduce the tick populations with landscape management including: removing leaf litter, cutting back grass and brush, controlling the rodent and small mammal populations, and discouraging deer activity.
- Wear closed-toe shoes, long sleeved shirts, and pants.
- Pull socks over pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up the legs.
- Wear light coloured clothing to make spotting ticks easier.
- Use an insect/tick repellent that contains DEET or Icaridin. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.
- Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks.
- Perform a complete body inspection after being in an area where ticks may live.