In Ontario, the blacklegged tick is the only type of tick that can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease.
Tick populations are expanding in Canada. Blacklegged ticks have been found in Toronto, which suggests that these ticks are becoming established here. However, the risk of getting Lyme disease in Toronto is considered to be low.
The Public Health Agency of Canada provides information on the risk of Lyme disease in specific locations across Canada.
Early detection and removal of ticks is important in the prevention of Lyme disease.
To get Lyme disease, a person must be bitten by a blacklegged tick that is infected with the Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria. The risk of human infection increases with the time a tick is attached to a person and usually requires the tick to be attached for 24 hours or more.
If the tick was attached for 24 hours or more, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to prevent Lyme disease. The antibiotic must be taken within 72 hours from the time that the tick was removed.When participating in outdoor activities in wooded or bushy areas, you can take the following precautions to avoid tick bites. For known Lyme disease risk areas refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
How to avoid tick bites:
- Wear long pants and long sleeves.
- Light coloured clothing may make ticks easier to spot.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- After spending time outdoors in wooded or bushy areas, shower to remove ticks before they become attached.
- Carefully check your full body and head for attached ticks.
- If you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible.
- Remember to also check your children and pets for ticks.
On your property:
- Mow the lawn regularly.
- Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds from the edge of the lawn.
- Keep tree branches and shrubs trimmed to let in more sunlight.
- Move children’s swing sets and sandboxes away from the woodland’s edge and consider placing them on a woodchip or mulch foundation.
- Ticks feed on rodents, deer and birds. Discourage rodents by sealing stonewalls and small openings around the yard. Use plantings that do not attract deer or exclude deer by fencing. Keep bird feeders away from the house.
The risk of acquiring Lyme disease in Toronto overall is believed to be low. However, the risk for exposure is highest in wooded, bushy areas where ticks that transmit Lyme disease have been found, including Rouge Valley, Morningside Park, and Algonquin Island. In 2015, blacklegged ticks were found in these areas of the city and in greater numbers in 2016. Personal protective measures should be taken when visiting these areas.Ticks are found in wooded or bushy areas with lots of leaves on the ground or where there are tall grasses. Lawns, mowed grass, sports fields or paved areas are not where blacklegged ticks are usually found.
Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead they wait for a host (person, animal or bird), resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs. If a person brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. It then finds a suitable place to bite. Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but, if found, may be in hard-to-see areas such as the armpits, groin and scalp.
Ticks are small, ranging in size from a poppy seed (less than 2 mm) to a pea (5 mm). The size of the tick varies depending on its life stage (larva, nymph, adult) and whether it has fed recently. The nymphal stage typically occurs during the summer months and is the stage most responsible for human infections. This is due to their very small size (less than 2 mm) which prevents people form noticing them on their body. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are larger (5 mm) and therefore more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria.
If you find a tick on your body, it can be removed with fine-tipped tweezers.
Do not squeeze or try to burn it off
Grab the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull the tick away from your skin gently but firmly. If tweezers are not available, ticks can be removed using fingers, being careful not to crush the tick.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Place the tick in a jar or bottle and take it to one of the following Toronto Public Health Offices for identification and possible testing.
Tick submissions from Rouge Valley, Morningside Park and Algonquin Island will no longer be forwarded to the public health laboratory for identification and testing as blacklegged ticks are now known to be established in these areas. Toronto Public Health staff will provide identification of ticks brought into our offices from these locations:
- 44 Victoria Street, 18th Floor, phone number 416-392-7685
- 1530 Markham Road, 5th Floor, phone number 416-338-7431
- 5100 Yonge Street, 2nd Floor, phone number 416-338-8410
- 399 The West Mall, 4th Floor, phone number 416-338-1507
- 175 Memorial Park Avenue, phone number 416-392-0936
Ticks from other areas of Toronto will be submitted to the Public Health laboratory for identification. If the tick is identified as a blacklegged tick, it is forwarded to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to test for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Test results can take several weeks to months.
Submitting ticks is for surveillance purposes and should not be used as a way to determine if a person needs treatment for Lyme disease.
Ticks not found on a person will not be accepted by the public health lab. Ticks found on a pet can be submitted to the Animal Health Laboratory through a veterinarian to the University of Guelph.
For more information on tick submission and testing, please refer to Public Health Ontario Tick submission and testing FAQ.
Lyme disease can be treated effectively if it is recognized when the first set of symptoms are present. This can prevent complications that may occur if the infection is not diagnosed until later.Symptoms usually begin 3 days to 4 weeks after a bite, and include:
- Fever and chills
- Stiff neck
- Muscle and joint pains
- Circular rash (also known as a bull’s eye rash). This rash occurs in 70 to 80 per cent of people who get Lyme disease
When the rash does not look like a bull’s eye rash or there is no rash it can be difficult to diagnose Lyme disease as the other symptoms are the same as many other illnesses.
Untreated Lyme disease can affect the central nervous system, brain, joints or heart. Symptoms may include one or more of migraines, weakness, drooping of one side of the face, difficulty closing one eye, multiple skin rashes, painful swollen joints (usually large joints such as the knees), and extreme fatigue
Contact your doctor promptly if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease. If your doctor diagnoses Lyme disease, there are effective antibiotics available for treatment.
Toronto’s tick surveillance program monitors the number of blacklegged ticks, their locations, and the number of them that carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This information helps to determine the overall risk of Lyme disease in Toronto.
The tick surveillance program consists of ticks brought in by the public and ticks found by dragging.
Tick dragging is a process of collecting ticks in the environment and is done in the spring and fall when adult ticks are active. Dragging locations are selected based on suitable blacklegged tick habitat or a previous confirmed finding of a blacklegged tick. Blacklegged ticks may still be present in very low numbers at a site where none were found by tick dragging efforts.
Active Tick Surveillance Map
Tick dragging locations and results are available on the active tick surveillance map. The map is updated twice a year, once tick dragging is completed in the spring and fall. Because blacklegged ticks are known to be established at Rouge Valley, Morningside Park and Algonquin Island, tick dragging will occur once a year in the fall at these locations to monitor numbers and infectivity rates.
As tick populations are expanding, it is possible that blacklegged ticks could be present outside the areas identified by Toronto Public Health. In addition, ticks can travel or migrate on the bodies of animals such as birds, and therefore can be present in an area for a year in very low numbers and then disappear.
Ticks are found in wooded or bushy areas with lots of leaves on the ground or where there are tall grasses.