Tick talk: Here's how to protect yourself

Updated August 2020

Ticks are bugs that feed on blood. They are found in grassy or wooded areas, so when you're outdoors it's important to know how to avoid ticks and what to do if you've been bitten.

North York General Hospital Family Physician Dr. Jordana Sacks says not all ticks carry diseases. Although many of us associate ticks with Lyme disease (a serious illness caused by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick) most ticks are not infected and most tick bites do not cause serious health problems.

Here are tips from Dr. Sacks to stay tick free

Before going outside:

  • Be prepared and vigilant when going to environments where ticks live — wooded or grassy areas

  • Use a repellent that contains DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) directly on your skin or clothes. Remember to reapply often to work properly.

  • Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt and pants tucked into your socks. Light coloured clothing allows you to see ticks more easily.

  • Walk on trails and avoid tall grass.

After coming indoors:

  • It's important to check every day for ticks on your body, clothing and gear after outdoor activities and before entering the house.

  • If you find ticks on your clothes, put them in the dryer for about an hour.

  • Showering soon after being outside may help to wash off unattached ticks and to do a full body scan.

  • Remember to check:
    • Scalp and hair
    • Under the arms
    • In and around the ears
    • Around the waist
    • Back of the knees

If you have a tick attached:

  • Remove the tick promptly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible – pull backwards gently but firmly, using an even, steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist.

  • Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick, since its bodily fluids may contain infection-causing organisms

  • After removing the tick, wash the skin and your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

  • During the next few days watch for signs of illness such as a rash or fever, and see a health care professional if anything develops.

Dr. Sacks says the best way to avoid Lyme disease is to take precautions when you are in environments where ticks live. Even though most ticks are not infected, it's still better to keep an eye out and stay tick free.

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of The Pulse.

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