Toronto public health officials have begun to put up signs in the city where blacklegged ticks have been found and they are warning the public that these ticks can spread Lyme disease.

"The risk of acquiring Lyme disease in Toronto is considered low," says Dr. Howard Shapiro, Associate Medical Officer of Health and Director of Healthy Environments at Toronto Public Health, said Tuesday.

"However, this is the time of year where individuals and families start to enjoy time outdoors, so it is important that people know where ticks have been found and how to prevent Lyme disease."

The areas identified in the city as having blacklegged ticks are Morningside Park, Cedar Ridge Park and Rouge Park in Scarborough as well as Algonquin Island, part of the Toronto Island group of parks, across the harbour from the city's downtown.

"Blacklegged ticks are what we are concerned about," he said.

Dr. Howard Shapiro

Dr. Howard Shapiro, associate medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health, says stay on trails, wear light clothing and check for ticks after visiting parks to detect ticks early. (Linda Ward/CBC)

The ticks can range in size from a poppy seed to pea, depending on whether they have fed recently.

Shapiro said ticks are found in wooded or bushy areas, where there are lots of leaves on the ground or tall grasses. He said they are not usually found on mowed lawns, sports fields or paved roads.

Follow these tips to protect yourself during tick season0:43

To avoid being bitten by a tick, he encouraged members of the public to:

  • Stay in centre of trails to prevent contact with ticks. 
  • Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks would be visible. 
  • Check your full body and head for ticks. 
  • Use insect repellent. 
  • Take a shower after walks in the woods.
  • If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible because early detection and removal helps to prevent Lyme disease.

And he urged the public to check their children and pets for ticks.

Public health officials demonstrated to reporters on Tuesday how ticks are collected in the natural environment under the city's blacklegged tick surveillance program.

To get Lyme disease, a person must be bitten by a blacklegged tick that is infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Transmission can occur when a tick has been attached to a person or animal for at least 24 hours. 

Although the risk of becoming infected is low, Shapiro said protection against black-legged tick bites can further reduce the risk of infection.

Symptoms can start about three days to one month after a tick bite, often with a circular rash that looks like a bulls-eye. Symptoms include fever and chills, headache, stiff neck, muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics and treatment is most successful in the early stages of infection.