BILLET – At Easter, I got bitten by a tick. I found her the same evening, firmly planted in my back. Right away I thought of Lyme disease and to the horror stories that accompany it, and I wondered what I should do to protect myself from it. As these stings will become more and more frequent with climate changehere’s a step-by-step guide to what to do when you get bitten, because you have to act fast if you don’t want to get sick.
Information up to date as of May 2022. Thanks to Dr. François Milord, medical advisor to the public health department of Montérégie.
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1. Remove the tick
As soon as the tick is discovered, it must be removed immediately. It’s not complicated: we take tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull gently but firmly, without twisting. Care must be taken not to crush the insect’s body during this maneuver, as this may increase the risk of transmission of Lyme disease.
We then clean the place where the tick bit us, as well as our hands with soap and water. You can keep the tick in an airtight container, like an old pill jar, to take it to the doctor if you need to see it later.
Removing the tick – like the bite for that matter – doesn’t hurt, and don’t worry, it doesn’t struggle.
2. Determine when and in which region you were bitten
The risk of Lyme disease transmission is influenced by the amount of time the tick has been attached to us and the area it came from. It is therefore necessary to collect these two data.
Research shows that within 36 hours, it is virtually impossible for the tick to have transmitted Lyme disease.
The ticks that transmit the bacteria that cause this disease are present in nature in several regions of Quebec and their territory is constantly expanding. Currently, in 2022, they are mainly found in the following regions:
- Almost everywhere in Montérégie – including the Sorel-Tracy region, where I was when I got bitten
- In western Estrie (approximately from Farnham to Sherbrooke)
- In the West Island of Montreal and in the Terrebonne area
- In municipalities directly northwest of Gatineau
An interactive map showing the regions where the risk of catching Lyme disease after a tick bite is the highest is frequently updated by the INSPQ.
3. Determine if a preventative antibiotic should be requested
A study has shown that preventive treatment with antibiotics can greatly reduce the risk of developing Lyme disease after a tick bite.
Doctors and pharmacists can prescribe this treatment. It is for people:
- Who have had the tick on them for more than 24 hours
- Who, when prescribed, have no symptoms of Lyme disease and were bitten less than 72 hours ago
- Who have been bitten by a tick in an area at risk
The treatment should consist of a single tablet.
If you choose to seek out this treatment, be prepared to discuss it with a medical professional. Those I ran into in Montreal seemed more or less aware of the terms.
A doctor prescribed me not one, but 20 tablets of antibiotics, even though I had had the tick on me for less than 12 hours. The pharmacist I met gave me these 20 tablets without question, and did not know that he could prescribe this treatment.
According to Dr. François Milord, health professionals are better and better informed about Lyme disease, but those who practice outside the regions most at risk are not always used to it.
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4. Watch for Lyme disease symptoms
Whether or not you decide to take the preventive antibiotic, you must monitor your symptoms in the days, weeks and even months following the bite. As soon as you feel symptoms, you should immediately consult a doctor. Here they are :
- The first symptom is usually redness at the site of the bite, which grows quite rapidly and may look like a target. 70-80% of people with Lyme disease have this symptom.
- If left untreated or undetected, the redness disappears and the disease spreads to other parts of the body, including the nervous system. We can then end up with very varied symptoms, such as weakness in an arm or a leg, paralysis on one side of the face as well as joint pain.
Lyme disease is not contagious between humans.
5. Follow the antibiotic treatment
If you’ve been bitten by a tick and you have symptoms of Lyme disease, your doctor should prescribe you a course of antibiotics, which normally work well to cure the disease. It is recommended to take it as soon as possible to stem the symptoms, and to prevent some of them from leaving permanent sequelae.
“Skin redness almost always heals completely without any consequences. The other phases can still be treated relatively well, such as paralysis on one side of the face; although it is dramatic it disappears very well. On the other hand, there may be types of symptoms, such as pain in the joints, if they have persisted over time, it may happen that we remain with sequelae of that, pain, occasional swelling, ”explains Dr. Milord .
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6. Have your tick analyzed?
A few years ago, when Lyme disease first appeared in Quebec, ticks were systematically analyzed at the Public Health Laboratory. Now, as their presence is well documented in several regions, we send them (via the doctor) only if we get bitten in a region where there are usually no ticks, just to advance knowledge.
On the other hand, if you want to put your tick at the service of knowledge without unnecessarily encumbering public health, you can take a photo of it and send it to the eTick team, a digital tool created at Bishop’s University, in Sherbrooke, and now co-managed by university teams across Canada.
“In one or two working days, we try to quickly give information to the user so that he knows what type of tick has bitten him,” explains Jérémie Bouffard, project coordinator for eTick.
In particular, this allows us to know if the species that bit us is the one that can carry Lyme disease (ixodes scapularis, or deer tick), and tells us how vigilant we need to be in monitoring symptoms. It also makes it possible to properly document the progression of ticks in Canada.