Hiking and camping season has arrived and with it, ticks. Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself from ticks when you’re outdoors this summer.
Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are spreading across Ontario, and can now be found along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Their spread is concerning because they can carry Lyme disease. According to the Government of Canada, there were 323 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2015 in Ontario, a sharp increase from the 37 cases reported in 2009.
University of Toronto entomologist, Dr. Sandy Smith, suggests that the spread of ticks is due in part to climate change, which makes it possible for them to move into previously uninhabitable northern areas. Mild winters and early warming in spring can also increase their reproduction rates and shorten pathogen incubation periods.
Habitat change is another contributing factor. Recent land-use changes have created favourable habitat for white-tailed deer—the primary host for adult ticks.
Blacklegged ticks are typically found in deciduous woodlands, tall grasses and bushes. They prefer wet environments with plenty of leaf-litter. Juvenile ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, eventually growing to the size of a sesame seed.
They attach themselves to passing humans by clinging to clothing and crawling around until they find suitable exposed skin.
To avoid ticks during outdoor activities:
- Stay on marked trails, where possible
- Wear long sleeves, pants, socks, and closed shoes
- Tuck pants into socks and wear light-coloured clothing to make ticks more visible
- Use insect repellent with DEET or Icaridin on clothes and exposed skin
Not all blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease. Those that do must be attached to a human for a period of 24 to 36 hours before the disease is transmitted.
How to remove ticks:
Any ticks you find on yourself or your pets can be safely removed with tweezers. Simply hold the tweezers parallel to the skin, grasp the tick and pull straight up so the entire tick is removed.
After removing the tick, place it in a screw-top bottle, and take it to your health-care provider so they can help track the spread of Lyme disease.
Always check yourself thoroughly for ticks after being outdoors. Ticks tend to settle in quiet, dark places, such as behind the ears, in back of the neck and along the hairline.
Dr. Smith is quick to say that the presence of ticks should not prevent people from partaking in summer activities. Being aware is the best form of protection. “If you’re paying attention, you’ll see them,” she says.
Chen, Dongmei, et al. “Analyzing the Correlation between Deer Habitat and the Component of the Risk for Lyme Disease in Eastern Ontario, Canada: A GIS-Based Approach.” ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information 4.1 (2015): 105-123.
Cali Fox is a conservation intern at Ontario Nature with a B.A in environmental economics from McGill University. She is also a current candidate for the Masters of Forest Conservation program at the University of Toronto.