A Parent’s Guide To Ticks In Canada

Canada may be known around the world for its lush forests, but spending time in the great outdoors this summer raises the risk of bringing home more than fun-filled memories.

It’s tick season.

They are almost invisible to the naked eye and yet they invoke fear in parents across the country. Ticks love a lushly forested or long grass setting, warm temperatures and people or small pets to feed on.

Unfortunately, they can also carry bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi that can cause Lyme Disease.

How To Spot A Tick

Ticks range in size from approximately the size of a poppy seed to as big as a pea. The difference in size depends on how recently they have fed. The greatest risk of ticks are in the spring and summer, but they are still active in the fall and can survive a mild winter.

Ticks like to live in wooded areas, leaf piles, shrubs and in tall grass. They are not able to jump, but will attach to their host if they get brushed against. Health Canada cautions that because tick populations are spreading, it is possible to get bitten outside of these areas.

Tick bites are often painless and you will likely not know that you have been bitten. Luckily, in most cases a tick must feed for 24 hours before the bacteria causing Lyme Disease can be spread.

In Canada, there are two types of ticks that can spread Lyme Disease:

Black legged tick (also known as a deer tick or Ixodes scapularis) is often found in southeastern and south central regions of Canada. These ticks are often found in wooded or forested areas. Image: Wikipedia

Western blacklegged tick (Also known as Ixodes pacificus) which is found in British Columbia. Image: Wikipedia

Lyme Disease In Canada

Lyme disease is spread through the bite of infected ticks. Ticks need blood to survive. They become infected by feeding on the blood of infected wild animals such as birds or rodents.  In 2016, over 88% of the cases reported were from Ontario, Québec and Nova Scotia.

A 2018 study suggested that Lyme Disease is severely underdiagnosed in Canada, with as many as 90 percent of cases undetected. The conclusion was that the process by which Lyme Disease is diagnosed is the most likely factor leading to many false negatives.

Despite this, the number of reported Lyme Disease cases in Canada has increased from 144 in 2009 to 2025 in 2017.

Here is a map from the Health Canada that shows areas of known risk.

How Is Lyme Disease Spread?

Lyme disease is spread when an infected tick feeds on a host for approximately 24 hours. Pets cannot spread Lyme Disease to humans, but they may carry ticks into the home on their bodies.

There are also no known cases when Lyme Disease has been spread through a blood transfusion although those with Lyme Disease may face restrictions in donating blood.

How To Protect Your Family This Summer

The best way to protect your family from tick bites this summer is to be prepared and to prevent. Dr. Richard Honaker advises families to:

Be aware of the areas and activities where you may come into contact with ticks-camping, hiking, golfing, fishing and hunting

  • When going out into nature make sure to wear long, light coloured clothing
  • Treat clothes with 0.5 percent permethrin and use a spray with a safe level of DEET on your body
  • Check all family members and pets at the end of the day
  • Shower soon after being outdoors and wash clothing in hot water

What Should I Do If I Find A Tick?

If you find a tick it is important to remove it right away. Dr. Honaker advises to be mindful to remove the entire tick including the head and to save it to show to your doctor for testing. Your doctor will decide if you should take a medication like Doxycycline or Ampicillin.

Honaker also advises to advocate for yourself or your family members if you have been bitten by a tick or suspect you have a tick bite, which leaves a signature ‘bullseye’ mark on the skin. He revealed that he once had a rash on his body without any visible tick bite, but they were living in an area where ticks were known to live.

“Our dermatologist did not think it was Lyme but I insisted on a blood test,” he said. “It was positive. So the rash can fool you.  It is imperative to be suspicious and persistent.”

What Are Some Of The Warning Signs of Lyme Disease?

The earliest sign is a red target bullseye-like rash at the site of the bite.  This occurs between three and 50 days after the bite. Later, one can get flu-like symptoms, joint aches, fever, and face muscle paralysis.

Dr. Honaker says the good news is Lyme Disease is very treatable, especially if caught early.  If caught early you just need an antibiotic for one to three weeks. Later cases may require prolonged medication for many months. Long term effects can be chronic arthritis, heart problems, fatigue and fever.

Prevent And Protect

No matter where you live in Canada it is important to take a few extra steps to keep your family protected this tick season. After all, long sleeves and a hot shower could save you from hours of doctor’s visits and antibiotics!

Have you ever seen a tick? Let us know in the comments about your tick encounters and share your best tips for staying tick-free!

Melissa Robertson is a journalist with 15 years of experience as a professional writer. She is also a hot mess mom to three very energetic daughters, and loves to DIY, share design and upcycle projects and creating patterns. She shares it all on her blog, Keeping Up With The Robertsons and, luckily, has a husband who is a total softie and is usually willing to go along with her crazy plans!