Lyme disease is an important health concern in many parts of Canada and is spread by the bite of blacklegged ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Most people are infected with Lyme disease through the bite of an immature tick called a nymph.

Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm, about the size of a poppy seed) and difficult to see. Nymphs feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks are much larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult blacklegged ticks are most active during spring and again in late summer and fall.

The blacklegged tick that carries the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease is present in the Ottawa area, across Eastern Ontario, and the Outaouais region of Quebec. Ottawa is now considered an at-risk area for Lyme disease.

Ottawa Public Health has seen an increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease reported in the Ottawa area over time, as well as an increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease likely acquired in the Ottawa area. This is most likely a result of growing Lyme disease awareness and increase in tick populations in Eastern Ontario.

Ottawa Public Health is committed to reducing the health risks to residents posed by Lyme disease through prevention, education and awareness, as well as surveillance. Preventing tick bites is key to the prevention of Lyme disease.

image showing various sizes of ticks

Prevention

Populations of blacklegged ticks are growing and expanding into new areas. This means that the risk of contracting Lyme disease is on the rise across Canada. Though ticks can be found almost anywhere outdoors, they are often found in tall grasses, bushes wooded and forested areas.

Ottawa Public Health recommends practicing these simple steps to help minimize exposure to ticks, and help you enjoy the outdoors safely:

  • Apply a Health Canada approved mosquito repellent containing DEET or icaridin (link is external) to exposed skin and clothing
  • Wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, shoes and socks to cover exposed skin
  • Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Wear light coloured clothing to spot ticks easier
  • If possible, stay on the trails when hiking in the woods or walking in long grass
  • Do a “full body” check on yourself, your children, and pets for ticks. Pay careful attention around your toes, knees, groin, armpits and scalp.

Blacklegged ticks are very small and not easy to see which is why you should perform a full body check on yourself, your children and your pets after being outdoors. The sooner ticks are removed from the body the less likely they are to spread Lyme disease.

How can I reduce the number of blacklegged ticks around my home?

You can’t get rid of ticks completely, but you can reduce the number of ticks present in your yard. Here are some tips to help make your environment less favourable to ticks by:

  • Keeping the grass in your yard mowed
  • Removing brush and fallen leaves from the edges of your property, especially if your yard is bordered by woods or fields of tall grass
  • Cleaning up areas under and around bird feeders to reduce the attraction of small critters such as mice and voles that carry ticks
  • Discouraging deer from entering your yard, as ticks also feed on these animals
  • Keeping your woodpile neat, dry, off the ground, and away from your house

What if I find a tick?

If you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. The risk of getting Lyme disease increases with the length of time the tick remains attached to your body.

Since Ottawa is now considered an at-risk area for Lyme disease, it is important to contact your doctor if you believe a tick has been attached to you for 24 or more hours, or if you are unsure how long the tick has been attached to you, so that your doctor can determine if you need treatment with antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics would be considered when:

  • the tick has been attached for 24 or more hours or is fully or partially engorged and
  • it has been less than or equal to 72 hours since the tick has been removed.

If the tick was attached for less than 24 hours and its body does not appear swollen from feeding or if you removed a tick and more than 72 hours have passed, you should still be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of Lyme disease for the next 30 days. If you do develop symptoms, consult your health care provider.

Removing ticks

how to remove a tick

  • Use tweezers or a “Tick Key”
  • Grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Do not twist or rotate the tick. Do not use a match, lotion or anything else on the tick.
  • Wash the bite site with soap and water
  • If the tick has bitten a human, and you would like to get it tested as part of Ottawa Public Health’s tick monitoring, you can find more testing information below.
  • If you don’t want to have the tick tested, you can dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet

Lyme Disease – Signs and Symptoms

Early and accurate diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is key to avoid more serious illness and the potential for long-term complications. Long-term complications can involve muscle and joint pain, irregular heartbeat, and nervous system disorders (involving the brain, nerves and spinal cord).an image of circular red rash from lyme disease

Symptoms usually begin within three days to one month after being bitten by an infected tick.

  • Circular, red rash (often, but not always, looks like a ‘bull’s-eye’ ), which slowly expands around the tick bite area
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Spasms or weakness

If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, consult your health care provider.

Steps to reduce your pet’s exposure to ticks

If your pet spends lots of time outdoors, a tick check should be part of your daily routine. While dogs and cats cannot directly transmit Lyme disease to people, a tick may enter your home on your pet’s back and move on to bite a human.

To help reduce the chances of your pet carrying a tick that may transmit Lyme disease:

  • Talk to your veterinarian about ways to protect your pet from ticks. There are many topical products that can help repel or kill ticks, and for dogs there is a vaccine.
  • Check your pet daily for ticks, especially if it spends time in wooded or overgrown areas
  • Remove any ticks right away and dispose
    • Use tweezers or a “Tick Key”
    • Grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Do not twist or rotate the tick. Do not use a match, lotion or anything else on the tick.
    • Wash the bite site with soap and water
    • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet
    • When your pet is examined by a veterinarian, ask for a thorough tick check

Monitoring Lyme disease in Ottawa

Ottawa Public Health staff regularly conducts tick dragging (link is external) and collects ticks from the public to monitor tick populations and to test for Lyme disease. The number of cases of Lyme disease in humans reported in Ottawa has increased over time.

Is there a Lyme disease vaccine?

Unfortunately, a Lyme disease vaccine is not available in Canada.

For more information:

Get your tick tested

Ticks that have bitten humans in the City of Ottawa can be submitted through Ottawa Public Health for testing. As this is a surveillance and identification program only, results may not be available for a number of months, and the results are not used to make medical treatment decisions.

If you have been bitten by a tick, follow these steps to remove the tick and contain the tick for testing:

  • Use tweezers or a “Tick Key”
  • Grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Do not twist or rotate the tick. Do not use a match, lotion or anything else on the tick.
  • Wash the bite site with soap and water
  • Place the tick in an empty pill vial or zip-lock bag with a moistened paper towel
  • Contact 3-1-1 or Ottawa Public Health to schedule an appointment to submit the tick for testing, ph: 613-580-6744 or email: healthsante@ottawa.ca (link sends e-mail)

If you have been bitten by a tick outside of the City of Ottawa, please contact the Public Health Unit (link is external) for that area to see if they are testing ticks.

Ticks retrieved from animals may be submitted to the Public Health Agency of Canada (link is external)Please note, Ottawa Public Health is not involved in this process.