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How Lyme Disease Spreads

Lyme disease can be a serious illness spread by the bite of certain species of ticks. Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from person-to-person.

In Ontario, Lyme disease is typically spread to humans by blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks). While not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, populations of these infected blacklegged ticks are growing.

That is why it's important for people to take precautions.

Ticks: What You Need to Know

Ticks are closely related to spiders. They are small insect-like parasites that feed on the blood of animals, including humans. When unfed, ticks are usually one to five millimetres in length; after they gorge on blood, adult female ticks can be as big as a grape (see photos below).

bloated tick on skin

 ticks in various stages of feeding shown beside dime

Ticks cannot fly and move quite slowly. Typically, ticks come into contact with people or animals by settling onto tall grasses and bushes, and then attaching themselves to the passerby. It can take several hours for a tick to find a suitable place on the person or animal to attach and feed on the blood. Usually, it will take a blacklegged tick from three to seven days to fully feed. Ticks feed slowly, and their body gradually enlarges as they feed making them more visible.

Ticks are most likely to transmit infection if they are attached for more than 24 hours of feeding. That makes the prompt detection and quick removal of ticks one of the key methods to prevent Lyme disease.

Most tick bites are painless. While the majority of bites will not result in Lyme disease, it is still important to take precautions.

(Learn more prevention tips by clicking on the Lyme Disease topics at right)