Ticks are strongly settled in rural areas of Quebec, Ontario and most other Canadian provinces. These tiny insects can transmit Lyme disease, a bacterial infection with symptoms ranging from a skin rash to complications affecting the nervous system, heart and joints.

Since 2009, a significant increase in the number of cases has been observed in Canada, mainly due to climate change, with 2544 cases recorded in 20231. In our article, find out how to minimize the risk of bites and how to react in the event of an incident.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, usually transmitted by the bite of an infected tick. This insect, in particular the black-legged tick (ixodes scapularis, also known as the deer tick), plays a crucial role in the spread of the disease in Canada and the United States. When they feed on the blood of an animal or person already infected with the bacterium, they become, despite their tiny size, powerfull vectors of the disease.

However, not all ticks carry the bacterium, so not all bites are dangerous.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Early phase (1 to 4 weeks after injection)

tick bite button bull's eye

The first signs of Lyme disease often include a red, target-like rash over 5 cm in size, called erythema migrans or bull’s-eye. It usually appears around the site of the infected tick bite, and may gradually spread over the course of several days. Other early symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.

Late phase (more than 4 weeks to several months after the bite)

If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to more serious complications affecting the nervous system, heart, joints and other organs. These late symptoms can include persistent joint pain, heart problems such as palpitations or chest pain, neurological disorders such as numbness, facial paralysis, tingling or memory problems, as well as eye and dermatological problems.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person, and evolve over time. They can also mimic other conditions, which can make diagnosis difficult. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional as soon as any suspicious symptoms appear, especially if you’ve recently been exposed to ticks, to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

How to avoid tick bites?

To avoid tick bites and reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease, it is important to take a few simple but effective precautions during outdoor activities:

  • Find out about areas at risk: The eTick website updates a surveillance map of the most tick-infested regions2. See the map.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Wear long-sleeved clothing and light-colored long pants to spot ticks more easily. Tuck the ends of clothing into socks or boots to limit tick access to the skin.
  • Use tick repellents: Apply tick-friendly insect repellents to exposed skin and clothing, following the manufacturer’s instructions. This can help keep ticks away.
  • Walking on trails: Whenever possible, stay on trails and avoid dense grassy areas, brush and tall grasses where ticks are more likely to be found. Keep an eye on your children and pets to make sure they avoid these areas too.
  • Check your body and belongings: After spending time outdoors, inspect your body, clothing, equipment and pets for ticks. The adult tick is the size of a sesame seed, while the nymph tick is the size of a poppy seed. Don’t forget to check the warm, moist areas of the body where ticks like to lodge, such as the groin, armpits, nape of the neck and behind the ears. It’s likely that you won’t feel the bite.

By following these simple tips, you can significantly reduce the risk of tick bites and contracting Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses.

What to do in the event of a bite?

remove a tick with tweezers

Transmission of Lyme disease generally requires prolonged attachment of the tick to the skin, often for 24 to 48 hours. During this period, it’s essential to stay informed about prevention and treatment options to better protect your health and that of your loved ones:

  • Remove the tick correctly3 : If you find a tick, remove it quickly and correctly using a tick remover or fine tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, pulling it out with steady, firm pressure. Avoid compressing or twisting the tick, as this may increase the risk of disease transmission. Then clean your skin with soap. Keep the tick for your doctor. Consult the recommendations for removing a tick.
  • Record useful information: Note the date and place where you were when you were bitten, the area of your body that was bitten, and any symptoms you observe. Lyme disease is a notifiable disease (MADO)4 and this information will be useful to your doctor in the event of a positive diagnosis.
  • Consult a healthcare professional: After removing the tick, contact a family doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional. You can provide information about the bite, any symptoms of Lyme disease and share your concerns. He or she may also prescribe a blood test and appropriate treatment, usually antibiotics, if Lyme disease is suspected.

By following these steps, you can reduce the risk of complications from tick bites, and ensure you receive prompt and appropriate treatment if necessary.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

blood test for lyme disease in laboratory

To detect Lyme disease, a serological laboratory test can be carried out to detect the presence of antibodies developed against the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. Two types of antibody are tested for: IgM (early onset) and IgG (later onset). The test should be taken 4 to 6 weeks after the tick bite, to allow time for the antibodies to develop.

If the test is positive, it must be confirmed by a second blood test (the Wester Blot). In fact, the first test may give false positives, making the second method necessary.

If the test is negative, but there is a strong indication of the presence of Lyme disease, a health professional will recommend a repeat test within 2 to 3 weeks.

This test can only be performed with a doctor’s prescription. If Lyme disease is present, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other suitable treatment.

Who to consult about a tick bite?

If you or your child has been bitten by a tick, don’t wait to consult a health professional! Early and accurate diagnosis means more effective treatment, and reduces the risk of long-term complications. Check out our services in the Montreal and Quebec City areas.

Family doctors and SNPs: In the event of a bite, we recommend that you make an appointment with our clinic as soon as possible to obtain an initial diagnosis and a prescription for a laboratory test and treatment if necessary. Our health professionals can also give you advice on outdoor activities.

  • Book an appointment in public care
  • Book an appointment in private care

  • Private laboratory tests: CDL Laboratories, a subsidiary of the ELNA Medical group, offers the Lyme disease test. Results are available within 24 to 48 hours. This service is not covered by the RAMQ, but by some private insurers. Talk to your doctor to get a prescription.

    ELNA Medical logo

    At ELNA Medical, we give you the keys to minimizing the risk of tick bites and contracting Lyme disease. Make the most of your summer and outdoor activities with our expert advice!

    Sources | 1 : Canada Health – Lyme disease: Surveillance | 2 : eTick – Public Tick map | 3 : Quebec.ca – Removing a tick after a bite | 4 : MSSS – Reporting a case of Lyme disease