Communicable Diseases - Lyme Disease

Communicable Disease Prevention and Control

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected blacklegged tick. In Nova Scotia, only the blacklegged tick carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and not all blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria.

Ticks stick to skin and feed on blood. A tick carrying the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease can only transmit it after filling itself with blood, which takes at least 24 hours.

How prevalent is Lyme disease in Nova Scotia?

From 2002 to 2014, there was a total of 443 cases of Lyme disease reported in Nova Scotia. In 2015, there were 245 reported cases of Lyme disease, which was an increase from the 115 cases reported in 2014. Tick populations are expanding in Nova Scotia and Lyme disease awareness has grown over the years, so an increase in number of cases is expected.

Where are the risk areas for Lyme disease in Nova Scotia?

Blacklegged ticks have been found across the province. They survive best in areas that provide a moist habitat. Wooded or forested areas are very suitable as the trees provide shade and leaf litter ground cover for protection. There are six areas across the province where the risk of acquiring Lyme disease from blacklegged ticks is higher:

  • Areas of Yarmouth County
  • Areas of Pictou County
  • Areas of Lunenburg County
  • Areas of Queens County
  • Areas of Halifax Regional Municipality
  • Areas of Shelburne County

These areas are shown by the red circles on the map below. They are known to have established populations of blacklegged ticks that carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.

Nova Scotia has a suitable climate for tick populations. Blacklegged ticks are found throughout Nova Scotia, therefore the province should be considered an at risk area for Lyme disease. Nova Scotians are encouraged to spend time outdoors, be active and remember to protect themselves against tick bites, which is the best way to prevent Lyme disease.

(Use the + and - buttons on the map to zoom in and out.)

How can I protect myself from Lyme disease?

There are several ways to prevent or reduce contact with ticks when in areas with long grass, shrubs or woods:

  • Apply insect repellents containing DEET or Icaridin to exposed skin and clothes. Follow directions on the package carefully.
  • Wear light colored, long sleeved shirts and pants, closed shoes, and tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Keep lawns mowed short.
  • Put playground equipment in sunny, dry places, away from wooded areas, yard edges, and trees.
  • Check your whole body for ticks and, when possible, take a bath or shower within two hours of coming indoors. This makes it easier to find ticks and washes away loose ones.

A brochure on Lyme disease gives more tips for protecting yourself and your family whenever you enjoy the outdoors, especially in grassy, wooded or shrub-covered areas.

You can also learn by watching videos produced by the federal government in English or French, and a children’s video from the BC Centre for Disease Control below.

What should I do if I think I have Lyme disease?

If you have been in a grassy or wooded area and have symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches and/or a rash (particularly a bulls-eye shaped rash), you should seek prompt medical attention.

A bulls-eye rash (Erythema migrans) is a typical symptom of Lyme disease.

The rash associated with Lyme disease is not always in the typical bulls-eye shape.

Photos reproduced with permission from Dr. John Aucott, Lyme MD, Lyme Disease Research Foundation

How do I identify a blacklegged tick?

This chart shows what different types of ticks look like, including dog ticks and blacklegged (deer) ticks which look similar and are both present in Nova Scotia.

Top row: nymph, male and female blacklegged ticks. Bottom row: male and female dog ticks. The blacklegged tick does not always have black coloured legs. Dog ticks usually have white or silver coloured spots.

Photo reproduced with permission from the Public Health Agency of Canada

The Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History provides tick identification services for the public. For more information on this service please contact the museum’s front desk at 902 424 6548.

Where should I send a tick for testing?

It is no longer necessary to ask that ticks be sent to the Museum of Natural History, Department of Natural Resources, or laboratories for identification and testing. The testing of ticks for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of the disease.

Are there other tick-borne diseases?

Other bacteria or viruses carried by blacklegged ticks can cause Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA), Powassan virus disease, and Babesiosis. These bacteria and viruses have been found infrequently in ticks in Nova Scotia and to date, no human infections have been reported in this province.