Lyme Disease Tick Test

lyme disease tick test

Female black-legged ticks in various stages of feeding.

Those who have removed a tick, either from themselves, a family member, or a pet are often advised to store the tick so it remains available for a Lyme disease tick test should it be deemed desirable at a later date. In the majority of cases however, a tick will have been observed and removed fairly expediently with insufficient time for the transmission of Borrelia bacteria. Where it is suspected that a tick has been in place for more than a day or two it may prove helpful to store the tick after removal.

Some local health authorities, university departments, or state health departments run programmes where the testing of ticks takes place in order to aid research efforts and to influence community service and public health guidance. Ticks have been found to have varying rates of infection with Borrelia bacteria across the US and Europe, with some areas showing very low rates of Lyme disease infection in the local tick population and some finding a majority of ticks carrying the infectious spirochaetes.


Results from Tick Tests

Should you remove a tick and feel compelled to get it tested you can usually find the number for the local government health department in the phone directory or by searching online. In most cases tick testing is not considered necessary or appropriate as even if a tick is infected it does not always mean that whoever was bitten by the tick is also now infected. Where a tick is infected the results of a test are unlikely to come back prior to symptom development in whoever was bitten; Lyme disease treatment should not be delayed whilst waiting for results of a tick test. However, a negative test result from a removed tick should not be considered as a guarantee that whoever was bitten by this tick has not been infected as they may have been bitten by another tick either at the same time or on a separate occasion.

In many cases a tick bite can easily go unnoticed, especially as they like to hide in skin creases and folds in areas such as the groin, the back of knees, armpits, on the scalp, and even between the toes or in the ears in pets. Ticks’ saliva also contains a special substance that reduces pain and itchiness in the area of the bite, thus helping it remain unobserved for longer. Unfortunately, this substance also helps in the transmission of Borrelia spirochaetes.


Identifying Lyme Disease Ticks

Knowing which ticks are prevalent in an area and how to identify those ticks that spread Lyme disease can be helpful in encouraging all family members to be tick-aware. After removing a tick that is identified as a carrier of Lyme disease it is more likely that the person bitten, and their family, will be increasingly vigilant for symptoms of the condition. Ticks should be carefully removed using tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and by pulling slowly upward without twisting or crushing the tick. Squeezing the tick too tightly might make it regurgitate its stomach contents and increase the chances of infection occurring. The area of the bite should be cleaned and antiseptic applied.

Storing Ticks for Testing

An empty film canister, pillbox, or other small plastic container is a good storage vessel for a removed tick and the date and location of the bite should be noted, along with the locality in which the bite was thought to occur should it not have occurred close by. Dried out ticks are harder to test for disease, and more difficult to identify, so a little bit of moistened paper towel placed inside the canister can help prevent the tick from drying out.

In Canada, members of the public are encouraged to remove and store ticks should a bite occur, and submit them for testing and identification. Since the early 1990s scientists working at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) have been collaborating with provincial and territorial authorities to amass information on the black-legged tick. Knowledge of the distribution and infection rates of the western black-legged tick have come from this kind of testing with samples submitted by the public, medical doctors, veterinarians, and wildlife biologists.

Medical practitioners and vets can help with removal of ticks should you be wary of carrying this out yourself and they can also help inform you of the most common symptoms of infection to watch out for in your pet, a family member, or yourself. Ticks should be sent for identification to provincial offices who can be contacted through the National Microbiology Laboratory, where any black-legged ticks are then forwarded for further testing.

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