Ticks and Lyme Disease: Protect Yourself
From right to left: An engorged deer tick, an adult before attaching to the skin, an engorged nymph (young tick), a nymph before it has attached. Both adults and nymphs can transmit Lyme disease. Photograph courtesy of Frederick Dubs, RBP, Johns Hopkins University
Relative size of a blacklegged tick nymph.
Unfed, partially fed and fully engorged nymphs of the blacklegged tick. Note the change in size and colour.
There are six known areas in Nova Scotia where Lyme disease bacteria is present in ticks. They include areas of Lunenburg, Shelburne, Queens, Yarmouth and Pictou counties, and Halifax Regional Municipality. However, ticks could be anywhere and it is best to take precautions whenever working or playing outdoors.
Check out the province's interactive map for more information about these areas.
What Ticks Look Like
There are 16 different kinds of ticks in Nova Scotia, but only two types frequently bite people: dog ticks and blacklegged ticks.
Blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, can carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that cause Lyme disease. There have been 329 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease in Nova Scotia since 2002.
Blacklegged ticks are very small (smaller than dog ticks), and their looks change during their life cycle.
The larvae and nymphs (baby and teenager stage ticks) are roughly the size of a poppy seed or sesame seed when fed.
Don't Let Their Small Size Fool You
A small blacklegged tick might at first look like a harmless freckle, skin tag or a bit of dirt. But even small ticks, like these, can infect you with Lyme disease.
Adult ticks are much larger than larvae and nymphs, and the female is reddish orange in colour when unfed. Females grow to the size of a small grape as they engorge on blood and darken in colour during the feeding process.
Unlike adult dog ticks, blacklegged ticks do not have white markings on their backs. And dog ticks are typically larger than blacklegged ticks.
Like most types of ticks, the bite of a blacklegged tick is usually painless, so it's easy not to feel them biting.
It may be difficult to tell the difference between a dog tick and a blacklegged tick.
Do A Thorough Tick Check
If you have spent time outdoors, it is important to carefully check your skin and clothing when you get home. Pay special attention to pets or small children who may have wandered into suitable tick habitat, like wooded or grassy areas.
Tick checks also help to prevent Lyme disease. Removing ticks as soon as possible can prevent or reduce the risk of infection, since blacklegged ticks can only transmit the bacterial infection after they have been attached to the skin for at least 24 hours.
Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. The earliest and most common symptom of Lyme disease is a bull's-eye rash at the site of the bite. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.
If untreated, more serious illnesses can occur, including facial palsy which is a weakening of facial muscles, and heart or chronic joint problems. These complications can also be treated with antibiotics.
Easy ways to prevent or reduce contact with ticks:
Additional Resources and Information
Enjoy the outdoors safely. Lyme disease: Protect yourself from tick bites
Landscaping Measures for Tick Management
How to Remove a Tick
For printed posters and brochures call Public Health at 543-0850.