Public health officials are warning residents to take precautions when they are in wooded areas this summer amid an increase in the population of blacklegged ticks that can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Christine Navarro held a news conference at Morningside Park on Thursday morning to provide residents with information about the city’s black legged tick population and how they can best protect themselves from tick bites.

“The overall risk of acquiring Lyme disease in Toronto is considered relatively low but it is increased if you are doing activities in wooded and bushy areas in eastern parts of Toronto such as around the Rouge Valley,” she said. “We want to remind residents that when spending time in wooded or bushy areas in Toronto there are actions they can take to reduce the risk of getting bitten by a tick.”

Navarro said that public health officials have observed an “expanding populations of black legged ticks” in Toronto over the last five years, likely as a result of climate change.

She said that in 2017 there was about 80 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease resulting from a tick bite, though in 2018 that number went down to about 40.

“Not all of those are acquired in Toronto – the majority of them have been reporting exposures outside of Toronto, especially eastern Ontario – but we have seen an increase in the number of cases reporting exposures in Toronto,” she said.

Navarro said that residents can prevent tick bites by using insect repellants that contain DEET or icaridin or wearing long pants and long sleeves when in wooded areas.

She said that it is also recommended that people who have been in wooded areas take a shower after returning home to prevent ticks from attaching to their body.

“If you do find a tick attached to your body prompt removal could prevent infection,” she said.

There are three types of ticks that are found in Toronto, however only the blacklegged tick can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include a fever and chills, headaches, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, a stiff neck, and a circular rash, also known as a bull’s eye rash.

Toronto Public Health has posted signs in areas where there is a known black legged tick population to advise residents of precautions that can be taken to avoid the transmission of Lyme disease.