Here's how to avoid Lyme disease now that Hamilton is an official risk area

Hamilton has just been identified as an area at risk for Lyme disease, and public health officials want Hamiltonians to be on alert.
A rash the shape of a bull's-eye is a common sign of Lyme disease. (CBC)

Hamilton has just been identified as an area at risk for Lyme disease, and public health officials want Hamiltonians to be on alert.

The city became at "estimated risk area" after eight blacklegged ticks tested positive last year, says Susan Harding-Cruz, manager of vector-borne diseases.

Those ticks were from the area around Christie Lake, she said. So a 20-kilometre radius from there becomes a risk area too.

That's the whole city, minus eastern parts of Stoney Creek and Glanbrook.

Harding-Cruz says it means residents should take precautions, including wearing long pants and shoes with closed toes.

This map shows the parts of Hamilton that are estimated risk areas for Lyme disease. (Hamilton Public Health Services)

"People should take precautions, so if they find any kind of tick on them, they should remove the tick," she said.

Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health, elaborated in a statement Monday.

"When you are being active outside, whether that be gardening, hiking, walking your dog or camping, make preventing tick bites and promptly removing any type of tick part of your plans," she said.

Lyme disease is a potentially debilitating infection transmitted to humans through bites from infected blacklegged ticks. The tick has to be attached for at least 24 hours.

Symptoms vary, but people with Lyme disease can have a rash, fever, chills and joint pain. If left untreated, it can lead to facial paralysis, heart disorders and painful arthritis.

Shania Twain is working on a new album after a battle with Lyme disease. (Getty Images)

It's called Lyme disease, Harding-Cruz said, because it was first found in Lyme, Conn.

It's not a new disease for Hamilton. There have been four locally acquired human cases since 2013. Public Health Services already has signs posted around Hamilton.

Last year, public health officials collected 13 blacklegged ticks from Christie Lake Conservation Area in the spring and fall. It's a process known as "tick dragging." Those ticks tested negative for Lyme disease, Harding-Cruz told Hamilton's board of health Monday.

But the community submitted ticks too, and those told a different story. People sent in 892 ticks, most of which were dog ticks. But 78 were blacklegged ticks, otherwise known as deer ticks. Of those, four tested positive and 13 are pending.

Public health officials are reviewing signs now and sending advisories to health care providers, among other efforts.

Lyme disease prevention tips

  • Know your ticks and where to expect them: In Ontario, the blacklegged tick is the only known tick that transmits the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks live in woodlands, tall grasses and bushes.
  • Prevent tick bites: Wearing light-coloured clothing outdoors makes ticks easier to spot. Wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks and closed toe shoes. Tuck your pants into your socks, and use an insect repellent containing DEET or lcaridin.
  • Do a tick check: After spending time in wooded or bushy areas, check your full body and head for attached ticks. Check your children and pets for ticks too. Shower to remove ticks before they become attached.
  • Remove ticks quickly using the correct methods: If you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. Use tweezers to pull the tick gently but firmly straight up so that the full head is also removed.
  • Know the signs and symptoms: Symptoms of Lyme disease usually start one or two weeks after a tick bite, but as early as three days. This includes a circular red rash that slowly expands around the bite, as well as skin rash, fatigue, stiff neck, joint pain and headache.

Source: Public Health Services


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca