So you've been bitten by a tick. Now what?

Ottawa Public Health has already seen around 60 confirmed cases of Lyme disease — the disease transmitted by the bite of the black-legged tick — in 2017. Here's how to make sure you don't become one of them.

They may not fly or leap, but this 'underachieving spider' can still make you sick

The black-legged tick, or deer tick, is known to spread Lyme disease through its bite. There have been about 60 confirmed cases in Ottawa this year. (CDC/Reuters)

Ottawa is tick country, and if you've been bitten by the tiny, clingy arachnid, you need to know what to do next.

So far in 2017, according to Ottawa Public Health, there have been about five dozen confirmed cases of Lyme disease, the disease transmitted by the bite of the black-legged tick.

That's more than in previous years, but not necessarily a sign that the disease is becoming more prevalent, said Michael Bennitz, a health inspector with Ottawa Public Health.

"If you want to go by total submissions, then yes, we've obviously increased our numbers," said Bennitz. "But that is in great part due to the awareness that's been going around about Lyme disease and about ticks this year."

Here are a few tips from that public awareness campaign.

There's a tick on me! Get it off!

First thing: Don't squeeze or pinch or burn it.

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Ottawa Public Health recommends using either tweezers or a "tick key" — OPH tries to give out one per resident, said Bennitz — to gently remove the tick.

That's because you're trying to prevent the tick from disgorging the contents of its stomach, which could contain infectious material, into your bloodstream.

After removing the tick you should spread antiseptic on the bite, Bennitz said.

OK, it's off. Now what?

While the temptation may be to dispatch the tick with a quick stomp, preserving the tick and submitting it to public health officials can actually do more to combat the disease, said Bennitz.

One of the common symptoms of Lyme disease is a circular rash around the site of the initial tick bite. (Ottawa Public Health)

Ottawa Public Health suggests placing the tick on a moist paper towel, stuffing it into a Ziploc bag or a pill vial, and scheduling an appointment with a public health officer so the tick can be tested.

"If they're an Ottawa resident, and they got the tick here in Ottawa, they're more than welcome to send it in to Ottawa Public Health and we will do testing," Bennitz said.

"It is a monitoring and surveillance program. It's not for diagnosis, per se. But we are pretty good at identifying them and letting you know if you need to see your doctor."

People should also go see their doctor if they think the tick's been attached for more than 24 hours, or if they're simply not sure, Bennitz said.

If you are older than eight and not currently pregnant, your doctor can give you a dose of prophylaxis that can also reduce the likelihood of developing Lyme disease.

I feel ill. Do I have Lyme disease?

That depends on what symptoms you have and when you developed them.

The most telltale symptom of Lyme disease is a circular red rash around the spot of the tick bite that often (but not always) resembles a bulls-eye. 

There are, however, other signs of the disease, including:

  • Headache.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Fatigue.
  • Aching muscles and joints.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Spasms or weakness.

Symptoms can develop anytime from three days after being bitten to more than a month. That said, not all black-legged ticks are infectious, and those that are need to be attached for a significant length of time before they transmit the disease.

"If you can find that tick within 24 hours of attaching, it's much better for your health," said Bennitz.

How do I make sure this doesn't happen again?

The answer is, unsurprisingly, not to wall yourself up in your basement and never go outdoors again.

Instead, there a number of preventative measures OPH suggests people take to reduce their chances of being bitten. They include:

  • Wearing long clothing when in tick-friendly areas, and tucking your pants into your socks.
  • Applying mosquito repellant that includes either DEET or icaridin, both of which repel ticks.
  • Doing a complete body check after spending time where ticks like to hang out, making sure not to miss your toes, knees, armpits, groin and scalp. 

Bennitz said it helps to know your ticks: small "nymphs" that are about the size of a poppy seed are more prevalent earlier in the year, while larger adult ticks are more likely to be seen in the late summer and early fall.

The nymphs are harder to find, he said, so people need to look extra closely for them.

Ticks also feed by climbing to the top of grasses and "questing" — sticking their front legs out — in the hopes of attaching to anything walking by, said Bennitz.

That means it's a good idea for hikers to stick to well-maintained trails.

"They don't leap, they can't fly. They sit there and hope for the best," said Bennitz. "Like an underachieving spider."