If you're heading out for a hike this long weekend, you may want to spray yourself with a dose of DEET.

No, not for mosquitoes but ticks.

Those nasty bugsare proving resilient even in our cold Canadian winters.  Several folks in our region have reported coming home from a winter walk in the woods and finding a tick attached to their dog or themselves.

It appears tick season now is pretty much every season.

Lesley Fleming and her dog Abby are keeping to sidewalks instead of trails for now, after a wintery encounter with a tick on March 10.

“The weather that day was -2 and we just had 15 centimetres of fresh snow,” says Fleming, “so we were thinking we would be safe, that there wouldn't be any ticks around. When we got home, we found a tick crawling on the top of Abby’s head.”

The concern, of course, is Lyme disease.  Ottawa has become an "at risk area”, after more than 20% of the ticks in our region tested positive for Lyme disease. But many folks would figure ticks are a warm weather bug.  Not so.

“The ticks are underneath the snow pack, under leaves and debris,” says Fleming, “and as soon as it is warm enough and the snow is gone, they come up looking for their first blood meal of the season.”

During this time of year, early spring or late winter, it's likely the adult ticks you're going to see.  The good news is, they're easier to spot than the nymphs that are the size of a poppy seed.  The bad news is, they're more likely to carry Lyme disease.

Lyme cases have more than doubled in our area. 181 Ottawa residents tested positive last year, according to figures from Ottawa Public Health (OPH).  That compared to 74 the year before.  That's an increase of 145%.  OPH points out that only 35% of the cases were actually contracted within the city of Ottawa; in the other cases, the ticks may have been picked up while camping or hiking outside Ottawa city limits.

“One in five ticks is positive,” says Ann Stanton Loucks, a Public Health Inspector with Ottawa Public Health, “so that means four out of five are not.  People need to remember that.”

Stanton Loucks says yes, the ticks are here but that doesn't mean people need to fear.

“We don't want people to panic. They can go outside and enjoy outdoors. Just take precautions,” she says, “We want people to make sure they are doing tick checks just like people should be applying sunscreen.  That became a normalized behavior.  Now we want tick checks to become a normalized behavior.”

And that's exactly what Rob Lafleur plans to do now after today's outing in the park with his family and dog.

“Maybe we should now that you brought it to my attention,” says Lafleur, with his two kids, wife and dog playing nearby, “maybe it's not a bad idea to start (checking for ticks).  There is no better time to start than now on Easter weekend.”

It's important to check pets, too.  Even though cats can't get Lyme disease, the ticks can fall off and crawl onto you. 

And there are some good tick removal tools out there, available at most outdoor stores. The Lyme disease community is hosting an event featuring expert speakers on Lyme disease. VOCAL stands for Voices of Canadians About Lyme Disease.  The awareness event takes place Saturday, May 5th from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Ottawa City Hall.