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Lyme Disease

Description

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected tick.

Lyme disease was first identified in 1977. Many cases, at the time, were reported in children from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, United States. Ever since, thousands of cases have been reported across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In Canada, ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are found in parts of southern Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and British Columbia and parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In Québec, these ticks are concentrated in the Montérégie area.

In 2015, 160 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Québec, compared to:

  • 126 cases in 2014
  • 143 cases in 2013
  • 43 cases in 2012
  • 32 cases in 2011

Since 2011, there has been an increase in the number of people with Lyme disease in Québec, as well as the number of people that have contracted the illness in the province. The fact that Québec winters are less cold than they used to be partly explains this increase. The warmer climate enables the ticks to survive and grow more easily.

Ticks before and after blood meal.Ticks & tick bites

Ticks that transmit Lyme disease are known as “deer ticks” and “blacklegged ticks.” They live primarily in the forests, woods and tall grass.

Ticks feed on animal or human blood. Before feeding, their size can vary between 1 and 3 mm. Ticks can triple in volume when filled with blood, which makes it easier to spot them if bitten.

Tick bites are usually painless and often go unnoticed.

If you get bitten by a tick, you should immediately remove it. To know how, see the Removing a tick after a bite page. Place the tick you removed from your skin in a tightly closed container, like an empty pill vial. Write down the date and place you were at when bitten. Also note what part of your body you were bitten on. This information could be useful if you go see a doctor.

Symptoms

Lyme disease symptoms usually appear between 3 and 30 days after the bite of an infected tick.

Redness caused by Lyme disease.

Redness caused by Lyme disease. © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The most common symptom is reddening of the skin in the area bitten. This symptom is visible in 60 to 80% of infection cases. The rash spreads fast, reaching 5 cm in diameter and can be ring-shaped or in the form of a target. Sometimes the rash can appear on several parts of the body.

Other symptoms may accompany this redness:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Muscle and joint pain

When to seek medical help

If you have one or more Lyme disease symptoms 3 to 30 days after being bitten, call Info-Santé 8-1-1 or see a doctor. Give the details of the bite as you noted them. If you go see a doctor, bring the tick with you, if possible, in a sealed container. The doctor may decide to have it analysed.

If you have been bitten by a tick in the Haute-Yamaska or Brome-Missisquoi RCMs, a preventive antibiotic treatment can be prescribed in certain situations. For more information, please contact Info-Santé at 8-1-1.

If you have been bitten by a tick in other parts of Estrie or elsewhere in Québec, preventive antibiotic treatments are not recommended at the moment. However, you must watch for symptoms. If symptoms appear, please contact Info-Santé at 8-1-1 or consult a doctor.

Treatment

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. The nature and duration of the treatment depends on the stage of infection and symptoms.

Complications

If the disease is not treated, it can cause problems in other organs or parts of the body, for example:

  • Joint problems
  • Heart problems
  • Neurological problems

The problems may occur weeks, months or years after the bite.

Transmission

To transmit Lyme disease, the tick must be infected by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The risk of contracting this disease is very low if the tick remains attached to your skin less than 24 hours, but this risk increases if the tick remains attached longer. It is, as a result, vital to remove the tick from your skin as quickly as possible. For more information, visit our Removing a tick after a bite page.

Ticks can cling to any part of the human body. They are often found in areas that are difficult to inspect, such as the groin, navel, armpits and scalp.

People with Lyme disease can contract it again.

Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from an infected animal to a human or through contact between 2 people.

Protection and Prevention

Ticks do not jump, but they can cling to you or your pet during walks in the forests, woods and tall grass. The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites.

Precautions

How to avoid tick bites

  • Take your walks preferably on trails and avoid tall grass.
  • Use insect repellent on every exposed part of your body, avoiding your face. Closely follow the instructions for using mosquito repellent.
  • Wear a hat, closed shoes, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
  • Tuck your shirt into your pants.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks or boots.
  • After outdoor activities :
    • Carefully inspect your belongings (backpack, coat, etc.). Such precaution eliminates the risk of bringing a tick into your house where it could bite someone.
    • Get rid of ticks on your clothes by putting them in the dryer at a high temperature for 6 minutes. If your clothes are too dirty to be put in the dryer directly, wash them in the machine with hot water, ideally for at least 40 minutes. Then put them in the dryer at a high temperature for at least 6 minutes.
    • Also inspect your pets as they may bring ticks into your house. If you find ticks on a pet, remove them and consult a veterinarian if necessary.

How to spot a tick on your body

  • Wear bright-coloured clothing during your walks.
  • Examine your entire body after any activity in the forest. Get help from another person or use a mirror to look at less visible parts, like your back. Also use shower time to examine your kids. If you find a tick, remove it by following instructions indicated in Removing a Tick After a Bite.

To reduce the presence of ticks in your surroundings

  • Cut tall grass and undergrowth around your house, and mow your lawn
  • Remove dead leaves, undergrowth and weeds from your lawn, around wood supplies and the shed
  • Place wood chip or gravel paths between lawns and wooded areas, patios and playgrounds. Paths should be at least 3 meters in width
  • Position play areas away from trees, in a sunny location
  • Stack wood neatly in a dry, sheltered area. This can deter rodents, which attract ticks. Rid your yard of old furniture and items

Specific Features

In Quebec, it has been mandatory to report Lyme disease infection cases since 2003. Any laboratory staff member or doctor who diagnoses the disease must notify the public health authorities.

Last update: June 30, 2016 3:34 PM

The information on this website by no means replaces the advice of a health professional. If you have questions regarding your health, contact Info-Santé 8-1-1 or see a health professional.

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