KINGSTON -- As you enjoy physically-distant strolls this May long-weekend, public health officials are warning you to be extra vigilant as tick season rears its ugly head.

Kingston and Eastern Ontario are hot spots for the Lyme disease-carrying black-legged tick.

“They typically hide in the shade, in the long grasses, in wooded areas and in open plane areas,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, KFL&A’s medical officer of health. “Stay on the trail, there’s much less risk. The ticks don’t like sunshine as soon as you go off into the grasses, that’s when you’re most at risk.

“And if you’re a golfer, you got to keep your ball on the fairway. If you’re going off into the woods, that’s when your risk increases.”

Moore says so far this year 14 people in Kingston have been diagnosed with Lyme disease and 40 have visited hospitals for tick bites.

Last year, there were 285 cases reported to KFL&A Public Health.

“Those numbers keep going up year after year after year,” Moore said.

You should watch for a “bullseye” rash, and the “summertime flu” of fever, aches and pains.

Diagnosis can be even more complicated this year, warns Moore, as symptoms for COVID-19 can present themselves in the same way.

“Knowing the signs and symptoms for that first 30 days is absolutely important,” he said. “You have to almost have to remind health care workers and prompt them. It’s not all about COVID these days.”

The Health Unit says you can protect yourself and reduce the risk of exposure:

  • Doing daily tick checks on you and your kids;
  • Wear light coloured clothing to see ticks better, and cover up with long-sleeves, pants and closed toed shoes.
  • Using tick repellent with DEET.
  • Shower and bathe after coming inside to wash away loose ticks.
  • And check your pets regularly for ticks

Queen’s University is also working to understand Lyme disease better, with a new study.

Emilie Norris-Roozmon is a Queens University student studying to track patterns associated with tick bites. The study asks those who have come in contact with ticks, to fill out the anonymous survey.

She says whether symptoms are severe or mild, that the data will help doctors better understand the disease.

“Many people who have been bitten by ticks, and who feel that their stories have not been listened to and their care was very difficult to get if they got one at all,” she said. “This is an opportunity to bridge the gap, and to figure out how we can help in the care of tick-borne disease patients.”