Health officials warn to guard against ticks as weather warms

The Government of Ontario is asking people to reduce the risk of Lyme disease by protecting themselves from ticks outdoors.

Reduce the risk of Lyme disease by covering up, using bug spray, health officials say

Black-legged ticks. ( Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

The provincial government is encouraging people to protect themselves from tick bites and reduce the risk of Lyme disease when spending time outdoors as the weather warms up and the bugs re-emerge.

Lyme disease is spread through the bite of an infected black-legged tick, which can be found almost anywhere in Ontario.

According to Public Health Ontario, the numbers of "confirmed and probable cases" tripled in the summer of 2017. 

Last year, the province saw 997 cases of Lyme disease. 

Douglas Sider, a physician with Public Health Ontario, said the increase of cases can be attributed to the hot weather. 

"The other thing — and we've got good data to support this — is that the tick and where it's found, is slowly expanding in Ontario, especially across Southern Ontario," he said.  

Untreated Lyme disease can cause serious health problems. An infection can lead to recurring arthritis, neurological problems, numbness and paralysis, but with antibiotics, Lyme disease can be treated successfully if it is caught early. 

The Ontario government is advising people living or visiting wooded areas with tall grass, rushes or moist environments to take the following precautions: 

  • Staying on marked trails.
  • Wearing long sleeves, pants, socks and closed shoes.
  • Tucking pants into socks and wearing light-coloured clothing to make ticks more visible.
  • Using insect repellent with DEET or Icaridin on clothes and exposed skin.
  • Checking the body thoroughly for ticks after being outdoors, as promptly removing ticks can help prevent infection.

The government is asking the public to consult a health care professional if a person experiences any of these symptoms after a tick bite: skin rash, headache, fever, muscle and joint pain, spasms, weakness, numbness or tingling and generally feeling unwell.

When doing a full body check for ticks, people are asked to use a mirror or have someone else check their body for them. They are also asked to pay close attention to areas such as behind the ears and knees, scalp, ankles, armpits, groin and navel. 

The greatest risk of getting the disease is during the spring and summer months.

"Lyme disease is the greatest imitator," said Rossanna Magnotta, co-founder of the G. Magnotta Foundation for Vector-Borne Diseases in Guelph.

"The people who have it — their pain is quite severe," she said. 

"It might be camping or the outdoors, but those aren't the only place you can get a tick-bite. It can be anywhere."