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The government won't save you from Lyme disease bearing ticks. If you want to keep the insects, and the disease, at bay, you're going to have to watch yourself.

Tick bite? Send it in for testing. Here's what to do

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, July 4, 2016, 1:06 PM - If you've come back from a jaunt to the woods and you find a tick on yourself, don't stomp it once you've removed it.

Instead, send it to your local health unit. You could be helping identify new risk areas for Lyme disease, as well as helping yourself if you're infected.

"If you find a tick that’s embedded in you, you can send them to your health unit, then your health unit will send it to a lab like ours to test the tick for the presence of Lyme disease," Mark Ardis, a scientific advisor at GDG Canada, which was recently accredited to test ticks sent for analysis by Ontario's health units. "After that, they’ll give you a course of action on what to do if that tick came back positive with Lyme disease."

Every year, the Ontario government checks the woods for signs that black-legged ticks have moved into an area, and try and educate outdoor enthusiasts on the risks.

Summer is associated with a greater risk of encountering the eight-legged creatures, but Ardis says there are actually two "seasons": One in the spring and early summer when the ticks are at the nymph stage of their life cycle, and another in the fall, with a low-risk period in between.

Health units take advantage, so to speak, of the earlier season to drag for the blacklegged ticks that are known to carry the disease. If any are found, they'll be sent for testing, to give public health authorities an idea of which areas are prone. They will also trap small mammals like mice who may carry the bacteria that causes the disease. 

"Once we start finding them on mice populations, it would confirm that it is firmly colonized," Ardis says.

RELATED: Black-legged ticks detected in Toronto

The government can't eradicate the disease, but it can use the knowledge gained from tick dragging and testing to come up with a database to help them assess where the risk zones are. Then it can embark on public education efforts to warn people to check for ticks if spending time outdoors.

"There aren’t many products out there available to combat the ticks. It’s really having to learn to live with them," Ardis says.

What's important, Ardis says, is to be vigilant when out of doors:

  • Avoid humid wetlands and tall grasses
  • Stick to trails, and keep as close to the middle of trails as possible.
  • Wear long sleaves and long pants, and use repellent on exposed skin
  • Light coloured clothing makes it easier to spot ticks
  • Check thoroughly for ticks when your journey is done.

If you find a tick, remove it promptly using tweezers -- without squeezing the tick, as that may cause its saliva to be squeezed back into you -- clean the area thoroughly, and send the arachnid off to your local health unit for testing.

"I think a lot of people are not aware that health units will take in ticks. It’s important for people to know this," Ardis says.

RELATED: How to protect your pets from ticks:

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