Tick talk: What to know before heading out to enjoy the outdoors this spring

Phil Wong, manager of environmental health at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, said ticks are out already this spring.

Around 4 cases of Lyme disease diagnosed in Windsor-Essex in 2020

Deer ticks can be vectors for Lyme Disease. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via The Associated Press)

The great outdoors is a refuge — perhaps now even more than before. Getting outside for some exercise is one of the few activities still permitted amid the current provincial shut down. But as the warmer temperatures return, so does the hazard posed by ticks.

Phil Wong, manager of environmental health with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), said ticks are out already this spring.

"There are a lot of folks finding ticks on themselves and on their pets right now as they're going out and enjoying the trails," he said on CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Tuesday.

Ticks can be anywhere, including in backyards, Wong explained. Usually, they hang out on top of long grass or in the bushes, and as people or animals walk by they jump onto them and bite — often without the victim even knowing it, he said.

"It's really important that when you come back in, you just do a full body check to make sure you don't have any ticks on you," he said.

Ticks can spread disease through their bites. One tick in particular, the blacklegged or deer tick, spreads Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

The tell-tale sign is a bullseye-shaped rash, Wong said. Symptoms of Lyme disease, which generally appear between three and 30 days after a bite from an infected tick, include fever, chills, fatigue and muscle pain.

Lyme disease can potentially harm systems of the body such as the heart, nerves and liver.

"Symptoms from untreated Lyme disease can last years and include recurring arthritis and neurological problems, numbness, paralysis and, in very rare cases, death," states a provincial government web page on the illness.

Last year, about four human cases of Lyme disease were diagnosed in Windsor-Essex, Wong said, adding that the same number of people were diagnosed the previous year as well.

Across Ontario there were 1,159 cases of Lyme disease in 2019, according to provincial public health stats.

Wong said people can protect themselves by covering their skin while outside — tucking your pants into your socks while walking through tall grass, for example — and checking for ticks when they return home.

More information about preventing tick bites and what to do if you find a tick on your body can be found on the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit website.


With files from Windsor Morning