Enjoying and being active in natural environments such as parks and woodlands is associated with better health and well-being. These places can also be home to blacklegged ticks that carry Lyme disease, a serious but preventable illness. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health (SMDHU) offers information to help you prevent bites from ticks so that you can focus on enjoying being outdoors.
Ticks are becoming more common across Ontario and Simcoe Muskoka as climate change is creating more tick-friendly environments and lengthening the season during which ticks are active. They prefer to live in moist shaded environments, especially leafy wooded areas and overgrown grassy habitats.
Lyme disease is passed through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Early symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, and an expanding red rash, and may begin three to 30 days after being exposed. Most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated during the early stages, when the first symptoms appear. More severe symptoms including recurring arthritis, neurological problems, and heart disorders can occur if left untreated.
Avoiding bites, removing ticks quickly after a bite and early detection can effectively prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. You can reduce your chance of exposure by taking the following actions when heading outdoors in grassy or woody areas:
- Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and shoes with closed toes, and tuck your pant cuffs into your socks. Light-coloured clothing makes ticks easier to see.
- Use an insect repellent with DEET or Icaridin, being sure to read the label and follow the directions.
- If possible, stay on the trails when walking or biking in the woods and other natural areas.
After spending time outdoors, do a full body tick check on yourself, your family and any pets as soon as you can and at least before you go to bed that day. You can use a mirror or ask someone to help you check any hard to see places. Removing a tick within 24 hours can prevent infection, so taking a shower within two hours of being outdoors can help to wash away any loose ticks before they bite.
If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible and check the rest of your body as there could be more. Once removed, visit eTick.ca to identify the tick and follow the guidance provided. If you develop any symptoms associated with Lyme disease, be sure to speak with your health care provider.
More information about ticks and Lyme disease is available at smdhu.org/Lyme or by calling Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.