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How to stay safe around black-legged ticks

Warmer fall and spring weather in Ontario means that black-legged ticks — aka deer ticks — have become a three-season hazard. These are the critters whose bites may cause Lyme disease.  

Left untreated, Lyme disease can damage your heart, nerves, liver, and joints. The effects could last for years. The best way to protect yourself is to reduce the risk of being bitten. 

What you need to know about black-legged ticks 

  • They’re shape shifters, ranging in size from an almost invisible poppy seed to a small grape when engorged.  
  • They live in and along the edges of deciduous areas, often on bushes and grasses. 
  • They don’t jump or fly. Instead, they latch onto a prospective host when it brushes against the leaf or stalk of grass on which the tick is perched. 
  • They like to hide. Ticks don’t like the sun, so they may crawl under your clothing in search of warm, moist areas, such as your armpits, groin, naval, scalp, ankles, and behind the ears and knees.  
  • You may not feel them bite. The first sign may be a small, red bump, like a mosquito bite. A rash with a bull’s eye pattern may emerge from 3 to 30 days after an infected tick bite. 

How to protect yourself 

  • Learn what ticks look like and their preferred habitat. 
  • Deter ticks from establishing themselves in your yard by  
    • keeping lawn grass short 
    • trimming bushes and tree branches to let in sunlight (ticks avoid hot, dry locations) 
    • establishing a one-metre border of gravel or woodchips around the yard if you’re next to a wooded area or tall grasses 
    • removing leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn and from stone walls and wood piles. 
  • Before going into tick habitat, spray insect repellent that contains DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) on your skin and clothing. DEET also repels mosquitos. 
  • Wear proper clothing: light-coloured clothes so you can see ticks, closed-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into your socks, and clothing designed to repel ticks. 

If you’ve been bitten 

Not all black-legged ticks carry the bacteria, and transmission can take up to 24 hours, so allow yourself time to respond carefully. 

Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible, and pull the tick straight out. Avoid crushing the tick while removing it because this may release the Lyme bacteria into your bloodstream. 

4 useful resources 

Inform yourself, family members and co-workers with these resources: