Ottawa sees summer's first cases of lyme disease

Ottawa Public Health officials are once again warning people to be on the lookout for deer ticks that can potentially carry lyme disease, one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in Canada.

Ottawa Public Health says a few precautions can help prevent tick bites

A deer tick, or blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, is seen on a blade of grass, in this undated picture from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC/Reuters)

Ottawa Public Health is warning people to take precautions this summer to prevent bites from deer ticks, insects that can potentially transmit a debilitating disease.

Lyme disease is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in Canada and OPH says that so far this summer, 10 people in Ottawa have become infected.

From just a handful of cases a few years ago, the number of people in Ottawa diagnosed with lyme disease has grown steadily.

Last year there were 71 cases, more than triple the number from the year before.

Wear long pants, bug repellant

About a quarter of those people were infected in the Ottawa area. The rest of the Ottawa residents were infected in other "hot spots," including along the St. Lawrence River and the northern United States.

Robin Taylor, the city's associate medical officer of health, says the public health agency is making sure people know lyme disease can be contracted from tick bites in Ottawa.

OPH recommends that if you are out for a hike, you should wear long pants and bug repellant, and avoid contact with bushes and long grasses.

Kerry and Jean Tong are camping just outside Ottawa. After each hike, they carefully check their children, Sophie, 6 and Logan, 4, for ticks. (Steve Fischer)

Kerry and Jean Tong, a Hamilton, Ont., couple recently camping in the Ottawa area with their family, say they are taking that message to heart.

They love to take their six-year-old daughter Sophie and four-year-old son Logan for walks in the forest, but once they are back to the campsite, the kids undergo a careful inspection for ticks.

"Being outside and going for hikes in the woods, it's important to us," Jean Tong said. "So we are aware of [lyme disease] and have noticed an increase in ... the news and that so it has become more prevalent in our every day."

If discovered, remove tick promptly

If you discover a tick imbedded in your skin, Taylor said it's important to remove it promptly — but also carefully — using a pair of tweezers or a tick key. OPH offers tips on how to do that on its website. For more tips on what to do when ticks are found, visit this Government of Canada website.

Then, Taylor says you need to watch for symptoms.

"A common symptom, but it doesn't occur all the time, is what we call a bulls-eye rash," she said. "It grows quite large, and those happen anytime from a few days to a month after the tick bite." 

If a rash develops OPH recommends you contact your doctor immediately and start taking antibiotics.

Left untreated, people with lyme disease often develop flu-like symptoms. Over the long term it can lead to debilitating joint pain, heart and memory problems.