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Thousand Islands National Park of Canada

Ticks and Lyme disease present in 1000 Islands region

Residents and visitors should take precautions when outdoors

Ecosystem data technician Greg Saunders (left) and Parks Planner Angus McLeod examine a map while exploring boat access to the park's new Jones Creek property.
Size comparison:

Wood Tick (A-C)
A: Engorged female
B: Female C: Male

Blacklegged Tick (D-H)
D: Larvae E: Nymphs F: Males G: Females H: Engorged female

© www.lyme.org

Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) and the bacteria that carries Lyme disease are much more widespread in eastern Ontario than expected.  

Following confirmed cases of Lyme disease near Mallorytown last summer, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit worked with veterinarians from Gananoque to Prescott to retrieve and test ticks found on pets.  Ticks from as far away as Spencerville tested positive for the Lyme disease bacterium.

“It’s important for people to realize that no matter where you go in this region, the ticks are present,” reported Teresa Clow, Public Health Inspector with the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.  “Ticks were even found on dogs that hadn’t left urban areas.”

She cautions that with proper protection, the chances of contracting Lyme disease are significantly reduced.  “We want people to protect themselves,” she explained, “but not stay away.”

Lyme disease is present in other areas of Ontario, including along the north shore of Lake Erie, and in many parts of the northeastern United States.  The disease can only be transmitted by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, but can be successfully treated with antibiotics.  The challenge can be in diagnosing the disease. 

To help with this, the health unit has been working with local doctors to raise awareness of the presence of Lyme disease, how to remove ticks, and where to send them for testing.

Close to 200 ticks were submitted to the health unit last year from the public, doctors, and veterinarians, a major increase from the handful usually received.  Ticks seen in previous years were generally dog ticks (also known as wood ticks), which cannot transmit Lyme disease.  Almost every tick tested in 2006 was a blacklegged tick and a significant number tested positive for the Lyme disease bacterium. 

“With the test results, people will know if they should be treated,” said Clow.  “This is important because the symptoms can be difficult to diagnose after the first stages of the disease.”

The health unit will continue to provide the tick testing service this summer.  If a tick is found, it should be properly removed immediately.  The health unit will arrange to have the tick identified by the public health lab and tested for the Lyme disease bacterium at the Winnipeg Laboratory Centre for Disease Control.  Results are available within a couple of weeks.

“Testing ticks from pets is just as important,” said Clow.  “The dogs are the ones wandering through the grass where the ticks are.  Knowing where dogs are picking up ticks gives us more of a heads-up about where ticks are in the area.”

“Other health units are beginning to wonder if they too have ticks and Lyme disease,” said Clow.  “It’s not something anyone’s looked for or tested before.” The first evidence of blacklegged ticks and Lyme disease in the region was noted by staff at Thousand Islands National Park last summer.

“The park’s priorities are safety and awareness for park visitors, nearby landowners, regional residents, and park staff,” explained Sophie Borcoman, Thousand Islands National Park Communications Manager.  “The park will continue in-park research to assess the level and range of risk, will take mitigation measures as necessary to reduce the likelihood of visitors, staff, and pets being exposed to ticks, and will continue to work with the local health unit to communicate personal safety measures and information.”

Protect yourself

When you return from the outdoors, check your entire body thoroughly for ticks. 
If you find an attached tick, remove it promptly using a pair of tweezers.  Grasp the tick’s head and mouth parts as close to the skin as possibly and pull it straight out gently, but firmly.  Avoid twisting or squeezing the tick during removal.  Treat the bite area with an antiseptic.  Keep the tick in a small container.  Contact your local health unit to arrange for identification of the tick and testing for the bacteria in the tick.  You can also visit your doctor for help in removing the tick.

Watch for signs of infection following the bite.
Initial symptoms usually occur within one to three weeks after the bite, but can range from three days to one month. Contact your doctor immediately and let you doctor know when and where you were bitten by the tick if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • a red bulls-eye rash
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • fatigue
  • a skin rash

Early symptoms of Lyme disease may subside or disappear; however, without treatment, the disease can progress and affect the heart, nervous system and the joints.

Additional information on ticks and Lyme disease can be found by calling Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit at 613-345-5685 or 1-800-660-5853, your local health unit, or by visiting the following websites:

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s website at: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/pub/disease/lyme_mn.html

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s website at:
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/lyme_e.html

Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease in Spring, Summer, and Fall

  1. Walk in the middle of trails, away from tall grass and bushes.
  2. Wear a long-sleeved shirt.
  3. Wear white or light-coloured clothing to make it easier to see ticks.
  4. Wear a hat.
  5. Spray repellent on clothes and shoes before entering woods.
  6. Wear long pants tucked into high socks
  7. Wear shoes – not bare feet or sandals.