Insect and Animal Diseases

Enjoying the outdoors can help you stay fit and healthy, but it can also make you sick. Take steps to protect yourself and your family from these outdoor health concerns:


Lyme disease

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria carried by blacklegged ticks; however, not all blacklegged ticks are infected. The disease spreads when an infected tick bites a person.

Tick Information Card

Areas of risk

Blacklegged ticks are not commonly found in Waterloo Region and the risk of encountering a tick in this area is low. Blacklegged ticks spread to new areas of the province because of climate change and warmer winter temperatures. They can also spread by travelling on birds and deer.

Blacklegged ticks are typically found:

  • Along the northern shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River
  • Southwestern Ontario (Pinery Provincial Park)
  • Northwestern Ontario (Rainy River)
  • Urban-suburban parks (Rouge Valley)

For more information view the estimated risk areas in Ontario.

Blacklegged ticks are most active during the spring and summer months. Ticks cannot fly or jump so they wait on low vegetation and attach themselves to people or animals as they pass by. Ticks can also spread by travelling on birds and deer. This means a blacklegged tick could be found anywhere in Ontario.

Protecting yourself

Ticks are tiny. Before they feed they are the size of a sesame seed (3-5 millimetres). There are things you can do to protect yourself from a tick bite:

  • Wear light-coloured clothing so it is easier to see ticks on your body
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Stay on the trail if you're hiking in a forested or grassy area
  • Wear an insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin. Always read the label for directions on how to use it

After an outdoor activity, you can:

  • Put your clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least 60 minutes to kill any possible ticks, follow fabric care guidelines
  • Take a shower as soon as you can to wash off a tick that may not be attached through a bite
  • Regularly check pets that spend time outdoors. Ticks may attach to them and be carried indoors, putting you and your family at risk of being bitten.
Removing a tick
If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately. Infected ticks need to be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. 

To remove a tick you should:

  • Use fine-pointed tweezers to grab the tick's head and mouth as close to your skin as possible
  • Pull slowly
  • Do not twist or rotate and try not to damage it
  • Place the tick in a small sealed bag or a container with a lid
  • Thoroughly wash the area where you were bitten with soap and water
Testing a tick

The National Microbiology Lab is no longer testing blacklegged ticks for Lyme bacteria. As a result, Region of Waterloo Public Health will no longer be accepting ticks for submission.

The purpose of tick identification and testing is to gather data and monitor for new and emerging tick populations in Ontario. Tick submissions are for surveillance purposes only and not intended for diagnosis of Lyme disease.

When you find a tick attached to yourself or a family member, use the website eTick.ca to identify the tick. eTick is a public platform for image-based tick identification. There is no cost to use this platform and the website is best viewed with Chrome, Safari, or Firefox. You will receive identification results within 48 hours along with public health education and awareness messaging.

If through eTick, the tick has been identified as a blacklegged (Ixodes scapularis) tick or cannot be identified, please contact your health care provider, particularly if you are feeling unwell. Speak to your health care provider about what next steps to take, if any, for your health. Tell your doctor where you were when you got the tick bite to help them assess your risk of Lyme disease. The risk of infection is low if a tick was attached to your skin for less than 24 hours.

Please speak to your veterinarian if you find a tick on your pet. 

Symptoms

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a combination of symptom presentation, history of exposure to infected ticks and/or validated laboratory test results.

If you have been bitten by a tick and believe you have symptoms of Lyme disease it is important to see your doctor for medical advice. Tell them where you were when you got the tick bite to help them assess your risk of Lyme disease. The risk of infection is low if a tick was attached to your skin for less than 24 hours.

Symptoms usually appear from three days to one month after being bitten by an infectious tick. Signs of infection may include:

  • A circular rash referred to as a "bull's eye" rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes

If you develop any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention.

Rabies

Rabies is a potentially fatal viral disease that attacks the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans.

A bite from an infected animal is the most common way rabies is spread. It can also spread when infected saliva comes into contact with a scratch, open wound or your mouth, nose or eyes

Animal bites
Visit the Animal Bites page for information on preventing animal bites and scratches.
Vaccinate your pet
All cats and dogs over the age of three months must be vaccinated against rabies. It is the law. Pet owners whose animals are not vaccinated can be fined.
Symptoms

Symptoms of rabies in animals may include:

  • A change in behaviour
    • More quiet or depressed
    • Unusually friendly when normally timid
    • More aggressive toward people, animals, objects, or even its own body
  • Loss of appetite, or difficulty eating or drinking
  • Barking or meowing differently
  • Excessive drool
  • Biting the site of the wound where it was exposed to rabies
  • Overreacting to touch, sound or light
  • Staggering or falling
  • Becoming partially or completely unable to move

West Nile virus

West Nile virus is carried by mosquitos and can cause serious illness. The virus spreads when a mosquito feeds on an infected bird and then bites a person.

Prevent Exposure to West Nile Virus - Video

Monitoring West Nile virus

Public Health tracks West Nile virus activity in Waterloo Region by:

  • Monitoring the presence of the virus in mosquitos and people
  • Identifying and mapping mosquito breeding grounds
  • Controlling mosquito populations by removing places where mosquitos breed
Protecting yourself

Reduce standing water outside your home by:

  • Storing items such as wheelbarrows upside down
  • Changing bird bath water twice a week
  • Covering rain barrels with a fine mesh screen
  • Clearing eaves troughs and down spouts of leaves and twigs

Use screens to keep mosquitos outside by:

  • Fixing holes in window screens
  • Making sure screen fits snugly
  • Keeping windows/doors without screens closed

Protect yourself by:

  • Wearing light-coloured clothing
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants and a hat
  • Wearing socks and closed-toe shoes
  • Using insect repellent with DEET or Icaridin
Symptoms

Most people do not experience any symptoms. For those who do become ill, symptoms can occur three to 15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito.

Symptoms may include:

  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen glands
  • Skin rash

If you develop these symptoms it is important to seek medical attention.

Additional resources

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