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 attach to the 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 36 hours.

How prevalent is Lyme disease in Nova Scotia?

From 2002 to 2016, there was a total of 1020 cases of Lyme disease reported in Nova Scotia. In 2016, there were 326 reported cases of Lyme disease, which was an increase from the 247 cases reported in 2015. 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 survive best in areas that provide a moist habitat, such as wooded or forested areas, because the trees provide shade, and leaves provide protective ground cover.

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.

The following is a Lyme disease estimated risk areas map that uses historical Lyme disease case data and active and passive tick surveillance data to capture the gradient of Lyme disease risk.

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.
  • Walk on well-traveled paths, avoiding high grass and vegetation.
  • Check yourself, children, and pets after walking in grassy or wooded areas. Check clothing and inspect skin including in and around ears, arm pits, inside belly button, groin, around the waist, and especially in hair and scalp area. When possible, take a bath or shower within two hours of being outdoors. This makes it easier to find ticks and washes away loose ones.
  • Remove ticks as soon as they are found. Carefully grasp ticks with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight out. Clean and disinfect the area where the tick was attached to the skin.
  • Keep lawns mowed short.
  • Put playground equipment in sunny, dry places, away from wooded areas, yard edges, and trees.
  • To access more information about simple landscaping techniques to reduce the number of blacklegged ticks, please see the Landscape Management Handbook.

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.

The following pictures show examples of this rash:

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 and where can I send it for identification and testing?

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.

For information regarding the federal government’s tick testing program please visit the following link:

Note: 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), Borrelia miyamotoi, Babesiosis, and Powassan virus disease. These bacteria and viruses have been found infrequently in ticks or small mammals in Nova Scotia and can be prevented by following the same prevention measures as described above for Lyme Disease.