Lyme Disease & Ticks

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). In Ontario, Lyme disease is carried by blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also known as deer ticks. Ticks are insects that sit on tall grass and bushes and wait until they hitchhike themselves to a person or animal passing by. 

Blacklegged ticks in Hamilton

Ticks live in wooded areas or dense bushy areas with leaf litter or tall grasses. Blacklegged ticks prefers wooded or dense bushy areas and are not typically found in lawns, landscaped areas, sport fields or paved areas.

Blacklegged and other types of ticks are spread into new areas by travelling on birds, deer and other animals, attaching to feed and falling off when done.  Blacklegged tick populations have been found in Hamilton. The overall risk of Lyme disease infection in Hamilton is considered low.

Know Your Ticks

Blacklegged ticks are the only known ticks that can transmit Lyme disease in Ontario. (Photo credit: URI Tick Encounter Resource Centre)

Blacklegged Tick Engorged Adult FemaleEngorged Adult Female Blacklegged Tick
Actual size up to 1.3 cm
Can transmit Lyme disease

Adult Female Blacklegged TicksAdult Female Blacklegged Tick
Actual size 3mm
Can transmit Lyme disease

Adult Male Blacklegged TicksAdult Male Blacklegged Tick
Actual size 3mm
Can transmit Lyme disease

Nymph Blacklegged TicksNymph Blacklegged Tick
Actual size 1mm to 1.6 mm
Can transmit Lyme disease


American dog ticks (seen below) are the most common tick found in our area, they cannot transmit Lyme disease. (Photo credit: URI Tick Encounter Resource Centre)

Adult Female American Dog TickAdult Female American Dog Tick
Actual size 5mm
Does not transmit Lyme disease

Adult Male American Dog TickAdult male American Dog Tick
Actual size 3.6mm
Does not transmit Lyme disease

Hamilton Risk Area for Lyme disease

Hamilton is considered a risk area for Lyme disease. This risk area covers a 20 kilometre radius that includes all parts of the city except eastern parts of Stoney Creek and Glanbrook. While Hamilton is now identified as a risk area, the overall risk of human infection from Lyme disease in Hamilton remains low. There is a higher estimated risk of encountering a blacklegged tick within a risk area.

How do you get Lyme disease?

Lyme disease spreads through bites from an infected tick (not all ticks are infected). However, even with a bite from an infected tick, there is only a small chance of getting Lyme disease.  Tick bites are usually painless. In most cases, ticks must be actively attached and feeding for more than 24 hours to transmit the bacterium.

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, to reduce skin exposure.
  • Wear socks and close toe shoes. 
  • Use a tick repellent that contains DEET or lcaridin 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. Do not use these products on your pets.
  • Consult with your veterinarian on the safe use of tick repellent products on your pets
  • Check and recheck yourself, children and pet for ticks.
  • Avoid areas known to be infested with ticks when possible.
  • Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks.
  • After outdoor activity put clothes in a dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks.

Around your home and property you can lower chances of contact with ticks by eliminating conditions and habitat that might be favorable for ticks by:

  • Keeping grass mowed short
  • Removing brush, weeds and leaf litter from the edge of the mowed lawn
  • Trimming bushes and tree branches to let in sunlight, ticks prefer wet and damp environment and avoid hot, dry locations because they are sensitive to becoming dehydrated.
  • Creating a border of gravel or woodchips one metre or wider around your yard if you’re next to a wooded area, or one with tall grasses.
  • Consider moving children’s swing sets, playground equipment and sandboxes away from wooded areas and placing equipment on a woodchip or mulch foundation.
  • Keep bird feeders away from the house and play areas.
  • Take action to deter deer and rodents from your property by eliminating areas where rodents might nest (fallen trees, stone walls, disrepaired shed or exterior buildings) and consider deer resistant plantings or fencing. Ticks feed on host animals such as small rodents, deer and birds.

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a combination of symptom presentation, history of exposure to infected ticks and/or validated laboratory test results.

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.

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

Red rash that slowly expands around the bite can appear. Learn more about what this rash may look like.

In some cases, more serious neurological or cardiac symptoms occur after being infected.  Left untreated Lyme disease can cause serious health problems.

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 following a tick bite.  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.

Checking for ticks

You should do a tick check after spending time outdoors in wooded or forested areas. Carefully look for ticks on your body, starting with your feet and ending at your head, also don't forget to also pay special attention to the groin area and knees. Remember the accronym WHAT when checking for ticks on yourself and family members.

Illustration of person with arrows pointing to areas to check for ticks.

Daily Visual Tick Checks
Remember the accronym WHAT when checking your children and pets for ticks.

  • Waist
  • Hairline
  • Armpits
  • Toes

What to do if you get a tick bite

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

The identification and tick testing that Public Health Services provides is for surveillance purposes only and is not intended for specific diagnosis or treatment decisions for any patient. Tick testing sample kits can be picked up year round at:

To submit the tick to Public Health Services for Lyme disease 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.
    • Fill out information on the tick label included in the testing sample kit

Important information for tick testing

  • Take note of the following information before you bring a tick in for testing:
  • We only test blacklegged 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 submitted.
  • Public Health staff will call you within two to five business days to let you know the identification of the tick, and if it will be tested for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This testing can take up to six months for results to be available.

Public Health Ontario’s puts out an estimate risk map (called “Ontario Lyme disease estimated risk areas map, 2018”) that shows areas in Ontario where there is a greater chance of encountering blacklegged ticks. Refer to PHO website for further details.