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Tick talk

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What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to people through tick bites. In Manitoba, blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) can carry the bacteria known scientifically as Borrelia burgdorferi.


Where did Lyme disease originate?

Lyme takes its name from Lyme, Conn., where the disease was discovered. Researchers didn't identify the cause of Lyme disease and connect it to ticks until 1981.


How are ticks infected?

Ticks are infected when they feed on birds, mice, squirrels and other small animals that carry the Lyme bacteria.


Where are the tick hot spots in Manitoba?

Blacklegged ticks have become established in the southeast corner of the province as well as the area around the Stanley Trail in south-central Manitoba. Provincial officials say the ticks may also have become established along the Pembina River Valley at Pembina Valley Provincial Park near the U.S. border and at Beaudry Provincial Park just west of Headingley.


Do all ticks carry the disease?

No, but a lot of them do. For instance, more than one-third of the ticks found in the Stanley Trail area last year were found to carry Lyme disease.


What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Most people (an estimated 70 to 80 per cent) will develop a red expanding rash three to 30 days after being bitten by an infected tick. The rash is usually more than five centimetres in diameter and can appear like a bull's-eye. Other early symptoms are common to many diseases and can include a different type of rash, headache, fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes. If untreated, sufferers can develop nervous-system disorders, multiple skin rashes, arthritis, heart palpitations, extreme fatigue and weakness and neurological problems.


What is the treatment?

Caught in the early stages, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. The treatment period is two to four weeks.


How prevalent is it?

There were only 16 reported cases of Lyme disease in Manitoba last year, up from 11 the year before. But in Minnesota, health officials reported 1,239 cases in 2010.


How do you protect yourself (and your pets) from Lyme disease?

  • Use trails whenever possible, and stay to the centre of hiking trails or paths.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing to make it easier to see ticks crawling on your clothes.
  • Cover up. Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks to make it more difficult for ticks to attach to your skin.
  • Insect repellents containing DEET are safe and can effectively repel ticks.
  • Check for ticks after walking in known tick-infested areas. Remove any you find as soon as possible from yourself, your kids and your pets. Timing is important as it can take 24 hours or more for a tick to infect you.


FACT: In 2010, Lyme disease became a nationally reportable disease in Canada. This means that all medical professionals must report cases to the Public Health Agency of Canada.


Sources: Manitoba Health, Public Health Agency of Canada, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Minnesota Department of Health.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2011 J5

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