The risk of acquiring Lyme disease in Toronto may be low but if you enjoy spending time in outdoors, you should know where blacklegged ticks can be found and the simple steps you can take to prevent the debilitating disease.
Locally, blacklegged ticks have been found in Algonquin Island, Highland Creek, Morningside Park and Rouge National Urban Park. “Although we have seen an increase in tick populations in recent years, the overall risk of acquiring Lyme disease in Toronto is still considered low,” says Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.
“Spending time outdoors is a great way to be active and stay healthy but it’s important for everyone to know how to protect themselves against tick bites and to recognize the early signs or symptoms of Lyme disease.”
Symptoms of Lyme disease can include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue and a circular rash generally known as a ‘bull’s eye’ rash, Toronto Public Health reports. Blacklegged ticks – the only type of tick in Ontario that can transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease – are typically found in bushy or wooded areas with lots of leaves on the ground or where there are tall grasses.
The best way to protect against Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Here are some tips from Toronto Public Health and the federal government on ways to protect yourself if you venture into wooded or forested areas within risk areas for Lyme disease:
• Use insect repellents containing DEET or icaridin. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application.
• Wear long pants and long sleeves. Tuck your shirt into your pants and pull your socks over your pant legs.
• Light-coloured clothing may make ticks easier to spot.
• Walk on cleared paths or walkways.
• Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to facilitate a prompt tick check and to remove ticks that have not attached yet
• Do a full-body check for ticks on yourself and your children, especially in the hair, under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs and around the waist.
• Remember to also check your pets and outdoor gear for ticks.
• Put dry outdoor clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any remaining ticks. If your clothes are damp, additional drying time is needed. If you need to wash your clothes first, hot water is recommended. If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes.
• If you find a tick on your body, use fine-tipped tweezers to gently but firmly pull the tick away from your skin.
Transmission of the Lyme disease-causing bacteria usually requires the tick to be attached for at least 24 hours. Early symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur within one to two weeks after a tick bite but can occur as soon as three days or as long as a month after a bite.
If you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease within 30 days of removal of the tick and the tick was attached for 24 hours or more, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Ticks found in parts of Toronto other than those mentioned above can be submitted to Toronto Public Health for identification and testing, which is useful for tracking locations in addition to those already known. Visit bit.ly/2JoeuF0 for more information about tick bites and Lyme disease.
Rouge National Urban Park is Canada’s first national urban park.
Parks Canada photo