Ticks In Ontario and What To Do About Them

You like to go out for a nice meal once in  a while… Well, so do ticks. In tick lingo it’s called “questing”.

Imagine a young tick on a quest; full of dreams, hopes and sometimes… extremely nasty bacteria.

You don’t want this quest to end on your body or the bodies of your kids!


The majority of ticks submitted for evaluation in Ontario come from kids aged 0-9 years and from adults over 50.

In our province, you are most likely to encounter 2 species of ticks that have been known to transmit infections to humans: Ixodes scapularis and Dermacentor variabilis. The latter poses no visible threat since the specimens collected and tested in Ontario to date did not reveal any bacteria harmful to humans. That leaves Ixodes scapularis a.k.a the black-legged tick, a.k.a the deer tick as the main villain in our story.


Lyme disease is the one to watch out for in Ontario, even though the deer tick can potentially give you two other “gifts”: anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Just like Lyme disease, they are caused by bacteria. Luckily, less than 10% of our local ticks carry these types of bacteria and the exact species of these bacteria present in Ontario ticks are not known to cause disease in humans.


Over the past two decades Eastern Ontario has earned the reputation of a deer tick endemic area. The rate of Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks there is 47 times higher than in other parts of the province. In 2016 there were 76-224 confirmed cases of the disease across  Eastern Ontario. Presumably, these ticks are feeling more at home there due to a progressively warmer climate. Considering that the tick season starts after the spring thaw and ends in September, our little friends can now enjoy more warm sunny days per season.


Although it seems like we should all immediately start hiking in scuba suits to avoid hordes of ticks, the situation is far from dire. Based on 2012 stats, a modest 19% of deer ticks collected in Ontario in 2012 tested positive for the Lyme disease-causing bacterium.  So, there is no reason to avoid frolicking in the woods just yet… as long as know what to do if you find a tick on yourself or your family member.


Deer ticks feed slowly, so in theory it would take them 24-48 hours to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium from their GI tract to you. In practice, however, ticks can partially feed on one person and, for reasons known only to ticks, move on to another victim. Upon the second feeding, the disease can be transmitted much faster. Baby ticks or “nymphs” are particularly sneaky because they are so hard to see due to their tiny size. The moral of the story is – when you find an attached tick, remove it ASAP. 


Various tick removal techniques have been shared around camp fires and in scientific journals for ages. Some involve applying a viscous substance to the tick’s body to suffocate it and force it to loosen its grip. Chemical irritants like alcohol or acetone and even fire are supposed to annoy the tick and make it yield its ground. Grabbing the tick and pulling it out with a twisting motion is intended to prevent the head from remaining inside the bite site. Unfortunately, these methods are way off the mark. When a tick is angry and perturbed, it starts to… pretty much barf. That regurgitation puts the victim at a much higher risk of contracting Lyme disease.


There are two effective and safe ways of tick removal, according to research. One is to grasp it with tweezers close to the head and pull gently without twisting. The other one is to use a safety razor and essentially “shave off” the tick moving from its front end to the back. Apply an antiseptic to the bite area and if you fell like it, keep the tick and contact your local Public Health unit (http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/common/system/services/phu/locations.aspx) for more information in your area.




Scientific References Sourced for this blog














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