Tick bites and Lyme disease
By Dr. Sarah Khan, pediatric infectious diseases specialist, McMaster Children’s Hospital
Over the past few years, ticks have become more prevalent in our area. Just like other insects, ticks will bite – and one type of tick can carry and transmit an infection called Lyme disease.
Know your ticks
A tick needs to be latched onto the skin for 24 to 36 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease. If it’s been less than 24 hours, then the area is most likely going to feel like a regular bug bite and there is no risk for Lyme disease.
The risk of contracting Lyme disease in Ontario is low, but it’s best to do a tick check (see below) on yourself, your kids and your dog if you’ve been in areas where ticks are common during tick season, typically from April to October.
The most common type of tick in Ontario, including the Hamilton area, is the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). This type of tick does not transmit Lyme disease and shouldn’t cause concern.
The type of tick that transmits Lyme disease is the blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). While these ticks are less common, they could be found in any areas where ticks live: woods, bushy areas and tall grass.
For more information on the different ticks, visit the City of Hamilton’s Public Health webpage.
How to check for ticks and bites
Ticks will hide in areas of the body that are less visible, such as in hair, along the hairline (including behind the ears) and in the armpits. Since young ticks can be very small, about the size of a poppy seed, they’re not always easy to see. But since they have a hard shell, you may be able to feel them.
When checking for ticks, slowly run your hands along your child’s skin and through their hair. If you feel a bump, inspect it further.
If you find a tick on your child that hasn’t latched onto the skin, there aren’t health risks.
If you find a tick on your child that has latched on, follow these steps to remove the tick (source: Hamilton Public Health).
- Remove the tick carefully with fine tip tweezers by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull it straight out, gently but firmly.
- After removing, wash the skin with soap and water.
If it’s an American dog tick, there’s no risk of Lyme disease. If it’s a blacklegged tick that’s been latched on for less than 24 hours, the risk of transmission of Lyme disease is extremely unlikely.
The longer a tick is latched on, the larger it will get. If you find a tick on your child that’s noticeably bigger and you’re unsure which type of tick it is, remove the tick and take it and your child to your family doctor. You can safely transport a tick by putting it in alcohol and placing it in a sealed bag or container, or dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet. Bringing the tick to an appointment in a safe container may allow the doctors to look at its characteristics to identify if it is a dog tick or deer tick, and by assessing the size of it and the child’s medical history determine the need for antibiotics.
Only if your child starts experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease should you take them to a hospital or urgent care centre.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can take anywhere from a few days to four weeks to present.
Other symptoms can include unexplained headache, fever, joint swelling, and muscle pain.
Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.
If kids are spending time outside on a well maintained property, there aren’t likely to be ticks. Consider these prevention tips if kids will be in an area of the woods, bush or tall grass that isn’t maintained.
- Use insect repellant with either the ingredients DEET or icaridin on both exposed skin and clothing.
- Wear close-toed shoes, long sleeves and pants.
- Consider clothing that has insect shield technology (which is non-toxic for humans).
- At the end of a day outdoors, do a thorough tick check.