Discovered in 1977 in the town of Lyme in Connecticut, the Lyme disease-carrying tick—also known as the “Scapularis tick,” the “black-legged tick,” or the “deer tick”—is currently settling in Montérégie, Estrie, and southern Quebec. In the long term, this disease can cause skin lesions, muscle pain, joint pain, arthritic episodes, inflammatory cranial lesions, facial paralysis, eye disorders, meningitis, heart disease, etc. (1) It’s therefore important to know how to recognize a tick bite as well as the early symptoms of Lyme disease.
How to recognize a Lyme disease-carrying tick
Lyme disease (or Lyme borreliosis) is transmitted by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which is transmitted by the bite of infected ticks. In Quebec, it’s transmitted by the Ixodes scapularis tick, commonly referred to as the black-legged tick or deer tick. In Europe, the bacterium is transmitted by the Ixodes ricinus tick. In the American West, the Ixodes pacificus tick can also transmit the disease. To find out if a tick is a carrier of the bacterium, keeping it in a pot in the refrigerator, for up to 10 days, then bringing it to a doctor or a veterinarian, as the case may be, as soon as possible is recommended.
Scapularis ticks aren’t all carriers of the Borrelia bacterium. However, to find out if it’s a Scapularis tick, it’s also possible to consult the tick identification guide for Quebec from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
To know the regions that are most affected by Lyme disease in Quebec, it’s possible to consult the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux website.
How to know if I have Lyme disease
It must be said that, if the tick stays attached to you for less than 24 hours, the risk of contracting Lyme disease is low. However, consulting a doctor by bringing the insect with you immediately following a bite is always recommended. An analysis could determine whether the tick itself was a carrier of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. It’s not always easy to recognize a tick bite, especially when you’ve never seen one before. Tick bites can also be caused by juvenile ticks, which are tiny and hard to observe. However, in some cases, it’s possible to recognize the early symptoms of Lyme disease, which usually manifest themselves 3 to 30 days following the bite. (2)
What are the early symptoms of Lyme disease?
There are several early symptoms that are likely to manifest themselves following the contraction of Lyme disease. Here are some of them:
- Erythema migrans is one of the best-known early symptoms of Lyme disease. This is a localized skin lesion that normally appears within the seven days following a bite. It’s a ring-shaped erythematous macule (coloured spot) that usually measures more than 5 cm and extends quietly. It’s often shaped like a “bull’s eye,” and can also be completely red or purple. (3) The lesions can also show blistering and a solid or even crusty appearance. However, you should know that some people will never develop erythema migrans despite their infection.
- Arthralgia. This is joint pain without.
- Joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes (4)
Photos of tick bites
Since a photo is worth a thousand words, we are providing you with a few photos of tick bites or—more properly speaking—erythema migrans here. Erythema migrans is one of the early symptoms of Lyme disease. The diameter of the erythema is greater than 5 cm, which differentiates it from the skin reactions caused by bed bug bites, mosquito bites, and spider bites, among others.
How to prevent the disease from developing
A group of experts from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec believes that a doxycycline-based prophylactic treatment (preventive treatment) can be offered to victims of Scapularis tick bites if the following criteria are met:
- The bite took place in an affected region in Montérégie, Estrie, Outaouais, or the Drummond RCM. (See the updated list of the communities affected by Lyme disease on the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux website: http://www.msss.gouv.qc.ca/professionnels/zoonoses/maladie-lyme/prophylaxie-postexposition)
- The tick was attached to its victim’s skin for less than 24 hours.
- The delay between the start of the treatment and the removal of the tick does not exceed 72 hours.
- Doxycycline is not contraindicated for the patient (e.g., pregnant women or young children).
However, the treatment can be administered to victims who were bitten in other regions affected by Lyme disease, including Canada and certain parts of the United States and Europe.
This treatment can be prescribed by your doctor, but it is also available in certain CLSCs and pharmacies.
In 2018, Quebec expanded the availability coverage of the treatment to prevent Lyme disease. The CLSCs offering the prophylactic treatment were as follows:
- CLSC Cowansville–Farnham–Bedford
- CLSC Granby–Shefford–Bromont
- CLSC Acton
- CLSC Châteauguay–Mercier
- CLSC Haut-Saint-Laurent
- CLSC Lajemmerais
- CLSC Les Jardins-de-Napierville
- CLSC Les Maskoutains
- CLSC Saint-Bruno–Beloeil–Saint-Hilaire
- CLSC Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu–Saint-Luc
- CLSC Pontiac
Source: This compilation of the CLSCs offering the prophylactic treatment for Lyme disease comes from the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec website as of 2018-09-22 at the following address: http://www.msss.gouv.qc.ca/professionnels/zoonoses/maladie-lyme/prophylaxie-postexposition/
In Montérégie and Estrie, it’s possible to procure the treatment directly from certain pharmacists. This measure helps make the treatment accessible without having to wait for an appointment with a doctor or at the CLSC or spending long hours in the emergency room.
How to remove a tick
As soon as you notice the presence of a tick attached to your skin, it must be removed as soon as possible, taking the necessary precautions:
- Using thin forceps (e.g., tweezers), grab the tick by the head as close as possible to the skin.
Caution: Never press the abdomen of the tick, since this could increase the risk of contracting the disease.
- Remove the tick by pulling upward. The gesture must be continuous, firm, and without turning, while taking care not to crush or break the tick. (5)(6)
- Put the insect in a pot that closes tightly (e.g., a pill container). Keep it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days if it is alive or in the freezer for up to 10 days if it is dead.
- Identify the location where the tick was attached as well as the date and time of its removal.
- If the tick’s head or mandibles break, remove them with tweezers. If you are unable to remove them, leave them in place and let the skin heal.
- Wash your hands and the affected area with soap.
- Disinfect the wound with a hand sanitizer containing alcohol.
- Contact a healthcare professional.
Bring the tick to your doctor during your appointment. In addition, have the date and place of the bite on hand.
If you are incapable of removing a tick safely or if you are not comfortable doing so, consult your doctor or any other healthcare provider (e.g., a CLSC or emergency room) as soon as possible.
If you show symptoms of Lyme disease within 30 days of being bitten, consult your doctor or call Info-Santé at 811.
How to prevent tick bites
Certain preventive measures can reduce the risk of being the victim of tick bites. Here are some of them for when you’re on a hike, a stroll, or simply a walk:
- Avoid tall grass and brush.
- Wear long, light-coloured clothing and closed-toed shoes.
- Tuck the bottoms of your pants into your socks and tuck the bottom of your shirt into your pants to eliminate the areas where ticks could have access to skin.
- Wear closed-toed shoes. Avoid sandals and shoes with openings.
- Wear a hat.
- Use an effective insect repellent (containing DEET or icaridin) on the parts of your body that could be exposed. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before use.
When you return:
- Inspect the equipment used during your activity, such as your coats, backpacks, lunch bags, jackets, etc.
- Inspect your clothes. Put them in the dryer for at least 10 minutes at the highest temperature. If you need to wash them first, wash them in hot water for at least 40 minutes and dry them at the highest temperature for at least 60 minutes. Make sure that the clothes are dry before taking them out.
- In the two hours following your activity, take a shower or bath and check if there are any ticks attached to your skin. Use a mirror or ask another person for help in examining the areas that are harder to examine.
- If you’ve done an activity with your pet, check everywhere on them to make sure that they haven’t brought any ticks back with them. Don’t forget to check inside their ears and under their paws. That way, you’ll prevent your pet from bringing ticks into the house. Consult a veterinarian to guide you in extracting the ticks present on your pet and to find out the steps to follow afterwards.
Landscape your grounds to avoid making them an environment conducive to the proliferation of ticks:
- Mow your lawn.
- Get rid of any dead leaves present on your grounds.
- Don’t tolerate the presence of brush, tall grass, or weeds near the buildings.
- Don’t build play areas for children near trees or brush.
- Keep the wood dry and tidy to repel rodents, since they attract ticks.
- Set up gravel paths or wood chips between wooded areas and the other parts of your land (play areas, lawn, patio, pool, etc.)8
If you notice the presence of ticks on your land, contact us. We would be pleased to help you get rid of them.
Can a dog get Lyme disease?
Yes. Pets can contract Lyme disease. You might therefore wonder how to know if a dog has Lyme disease.
If your dog has ticks clinging to them, the first step involves removing the tick(s) from your pet properly. Contacting a veterinarian is recommended for finding out the safe procedures for the extraction according to the situation. The veterinarian could then analyze the tick to know if it was contaminated by the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
You should know that only about 5 to 10% of dogs develop symptoms of the disease in the months after they have been infected by a tick.
It’s possible for your veterinarian to check if your pet is a carrier of the disease by using a “SNAP test.” If the test is positive, further analyses will be able to determine your pet’s condition and the treatments required for their recovery.
You should know that there is also a vaccine to protect dogs from Lyme disease. (7)
How to kill ticks
After removing ticks, it’s possible that some of them will still be alive. If you need to go to the doctor or veterinarian, keep live specimens in a hermetically sealed container. If you want to kill them, avoid crushing them with your fingers. It’s possible to kill ticks by freezing them for several hours or drowning them in alcohol. They can then be thrown in the garbage.