Lyme Disease & Ticks

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria. In Ontario, Lyme disease is carried by some black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks.  In Hamilton, the most common type of tick found is the American Dog tick.  American Dog ticks cannot transmit Lyme disease.  Ticks are bugs that sit on tall grass and bushes until they attach themselves to a person or animal passing by. 

Lyme disease spreads through bites from an infected tick.  However, even with a bite from an infected tick, there is only a small chance of getting Lyme disease.  Tick bites are usually painless.

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually start one to two weeks after getting a tick bite, but can begin as early as three days to as long as four weeks after a tick bite.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Skin rash
  • Fatigue
  • Circular red rash that slowly expands around the bite, known as a “bulls-eye”

In some cases, more serious neurological or cardiac symptoms occur after being infected. 

You should do a tick check after spending the day outdoors.  Carefully look for ticks on your body, starting with your feet and ending at your head.

If you find a tick on your body, remove the tick immediately to prevent infection.  If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is small.

Here are the steps to remove a tick:

  1. Remove the tick carefully with tweezers by grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  2. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly.
  3. After you remove the tick, clean the bite with soap and water.

When removing a tick:

  • Do not burn the tick off
  • Do not put anything on the tick to try to smother it, such as Vaseline, alcohol or baby oil
  • Do not squeeze it; this could allow bacteria that causes Lyme disease to get into your body

If you want to submit the tick to Public Health Services for Lyme disease testing, follow the instructions below.

The only way to know for sure if you have Lyme disease is to get a blood test from your doctor.

If you have been bitten by a tick and believe you have symptoms of Lyme disease it is important to see your doctor for medical advice. Tell them where you were when you got the tick bite to help them assess your risk of Lyme disease.

Follow these steps to submit a tick for testing:

  • Save the tick in a clear jar, screw-top bottle or zip-lock bag. If possible, keep the tick alive.
    • The tick must be loose in the jar, bottle or bag. 
    • Do not put the tick in any liquid or attach it to paper or tape.
  • Take the tick to Public Health Services at Robert Thomson Building, 110 King Street West, 2nd Floor, Hamilton

Fill out information on the tick label at Public Health Services and follow any other instructions listed at the Public Health office.

Important information for tick testing

Take note of the following information before you bring a tick in for testing:

  • We only test black-legged ticks for Lyme disease if they were found on a person.
  • We will not test ticks found on dogs or animals for Lyme disease.
  • Public Health staff will look at and identify all ticks brought in for testing.
  • We will call you within two to five business days to let you know if the tick will be tested for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This testing can take several weeks to months. 
  • If you are concerned about Lyme disease, see your doctor. The identification and testing that Public Health Services provides is for surveillance purposes only and is not intended for specific diagnosis or treatment decisions for any patient.

The most important thing to do is to remove the tick immediately, following the steps outlined above.  Call your doctor to talk about testing and treatment if you develop Lyme disease symptoms within 30 days of removing a tick.

Here are some tips to avoid getting tick bites:

  • Wear light-coloured clothing outdoors. It makes ticks easier to spot.
  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Wear socks and close toe shoes. 
  • Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Use a tick repellent that contains DEET and follow the manufacturer's directions for application. Apply the repellent to your skin and outer clothing, but avoid your eyes and mouth, as well as cuts and scrapes.
  • Check your pet for ticks.
  • Avoid areas known to be infested with ticks when possible.

Higher risk areas for Lyme disease in Ontario

Hamilton is considered a low risk area for Lyme disease.  In Ontario, black-legged ticks are more commonly found in areas along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River including:

  • Long Point Provincial Park (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit)
  • Point Pelee National Park (Windsor-Essex County Health Unit)
  • Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area (Hastings & Prince Edward Counties Health Unit)
  • Rondeau Provincial Park (Chatham-Kent Public Health Division)
  • St. Lawrence Islands National Park (Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Health Unit)
  • Turkey Point Provincial Park (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit)
  • Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area (Region of Niagara Public Health)

At this time, the most common type of tick found in Hamilton is the American dog tick, which does not transmit Lyme disease.