What You Need to Know About Ticks and Lyme Disease

Expert tips on how to protect yourself during tick season

Parent spraying child's arm with insect repellent

If you’re active outdoors, there’s a chance you could come home with a tick. Blacklegged ticks are expanding their range in Canada by 35 to 55 kilometres each year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). “They’re increasingly moving into new parts of Canada and putting additional people at risk for Lyme disease,” says Dr. Robbin Lindsay, research scientist at the PHAC’s National Microbiology Laboratory. This bacterial infection can cause fever, chills and muscle aches at first, and left untreated, it can escalate to heart and neurological disorders and arthritis.

Here’s what to do if you find a tick—and how to prevent one from latching on in the first place.

When should I worry about ticks?

Ticks are most active from spring through fall, but can also stick around in the winter, especially if it’s mild and there is no snow. “People think ticks have short lifespans, but blacklegged ticks typically take three to four years to complete their life cycle,” Lindsay says. “They’re usually found on low-lying vegetation and attach themselves to people and pets when they brush past.”

How to protect yourself

If you’re going golfing, gardening, hiking or even just hanging out in a city park, wear light-coloured shirts and pants (to make it easier to spot ticks) and use bug spray that contains DEET or Icaridin. Once back inside, do a full-body tick check, paying attention to your hair, underarms, belly button, ears, between your legs and behind your knees—all places ticks like to attach and feed.

How to remove a tick

Most tick-borne bacteria aren’t passed along immediately, so removing ticks within 24 to 36 hours usually prevents infection. Don’t try to burn them off with a match or coat them in Vaseline, Lindsay says, because the agitated tick might salivate into the feeding site and increase your risk of infection. Instead, grasp the tick’s head with tweezers, as close to your skin as possible, and pull straight out.

The tick is off—now what?

Wash your hands and the bite area, and save the tick in a dated, sealed container in the fridge (if it’s alive) or in the freezer (if it’s dead). Consult your doctor and submit the tick to the nearest public-health laboratory for testing. You can also identity the tick that bit you at eTick, a new monitoring site from researchers at Bishop’s University in Quebec. Call your doctor if you develop flu-like symptoms or a rash, especially one shaped like a bull’s eye, at the site of the bite.

Have more health concerns?

Find out whether you need a vaccination before travelling and get tips on handling food allergies while on vacation.

Plus, find out how CAA Travel Insurance could help protect you if you get sick while you’re away from home.

Image credit: iStock.com/galitskaya

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