Hamilton is considered an estimated risk area for Lyme disease. Active tick surveillance carried out in spring and fall 2017 found evidence of established blacklegged tick populations, triggering Hamilton to become an identified risk area.
The risk area covers a 20 kilometre radius that includes all parts of the city except eastern parts of Stoney Creek and Glanbrook. Blacklegged ticks may also be found outside the estimated risk area. As tick populations spread northwards due to climate change, more areas are likely to become risk areas for Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. The risk of human infection does not occur until a tick has been attached for at least 24 hours. Not all blacklegged ticks carry the Lyme disease causing bacterium.
While the risk of contracting Lyme disease remains low in Hamilton, the best way to protect against Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites and promptly remove ticks.
Protect yourself and your family with these Lyme disease prevention tips:
- Know your ticks & where to expect them: In Ontario, the blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick) is the only known tick that can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) live in woodlands, tall grasses and bushes.
- Prevent tick bites: Wearing light-coloured clothing outdoors makes ticks easier to spot. Be sure to wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks and closed toe shoes. Tuck your pants into your socks, and use an insect repellent containing DEET or lcaridin.
- Do a tick check: After spending time outdoors in wooded or bushy areas carefully check your full body and head for attached ticks. Also, check your children and pets for ticks (shower to remove ticks before they become attached).
- Remove ticks quickly using the correct methods: If you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible by using proper techniques such as using tweezers to pull the tick gently but firmly straight up so that the full head is also removed.
- Know the signs & symptoms: Symptoms of Lyme disease usually start one to two weeks after getting a tick bite, but can begin as early as three days to as long as four weeks after a tick bite. Signs & symptoms can include a circular red rash that slowly expands around the bite, known as a “bulls-eye”, as well as skin rash, fatigue, stiff neck, joint pain, and headache.
Public Health Services (PHS) monitors and assesses the risk of Lyme disease based on federal and provincial methods and standards. This includes active collection of ticks by tick dragging, accepting submissions of ticks from the public that are found on people, and collecting reports of human cases of Lyme disease from local physicians. Blacklegged ticks collected through these processes are sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to test for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This information helps us estimate the number of blacklegged ticks, their approximate locations and the proportion of blacklegged ticks that could be infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
PHS, in collaboration with partners, will continue public education campaigns to raise awareness of ticks and tick prevention, along with measures all of us can take to minimize our risk. This will include additional signage in favourable environments for ticks.
- Results from spring 2017 tick dragging found three blacklegged ticks, and fall 2017 tick dragging found 10 blacklegged ticks. While all tested negative for the Lyme disease causing bacterium, the presence of blacklegged ticks found in spring and fall of the same calendar year indicates an established population of blacklegged ticks.
- Over the past three years there has been an increasing number of blacklegged tick submissions from Hamilton residents. Four of the 78 local blacklegged ticks submitted to Public Health Services by the public in 2017 were positive for Lyme causing bacteria; 19 tick results are pending.
- The most common type of tick found and reported in Hamilton is still the American Dog tick which does not transmit Lyme disease.
Between 2013 to 2017, four cases of locally acquired human cases of Lyme disease have been reported - one case per year except 2014.
- In Ontario, blacklegged tick populations are more commonly found in areas along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.