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What you need to know about risks from ticks

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THE sun is shining and the mercury is rising.

For many people, that means it’s time to make plans to head out to the lake, campground or hiking trail to take advantage of what Mother Nature has to offer.

But the warm weather that arrives with June also means something else: tick season.

Most Manitobans are familiar with ticks, especially the American dog tick (wood tick), which is commonly found throughout the province. Although unpleasant — it burrows into your skin to suck your blood — the American dog tick does not pose a serious health threat.

There is, however, another less common parasite that does — the blacklegged tick (deer tick).

This little critter is a known carrier of bacteria that cause Lyme disease, a condition that can lead to fatigue, muscle pain, fever, chills and headaches. Left untreated, it can also lead to long-term complications affecting the joints, heart and nerves.

It is important to remember only blacklegged ticks carrying specific bacteria can transmit Lyme disease, so not all bites will result in infection. But while the odds of contracting Lyme disease remain relatively low, they have been growing in recent years. In 2009, there was one confirmed case of Lyme disease in Manitoba. By 2013, there were 15 cases reported in the province, according to the Manitoba Health Surveillance Report, and that number is expected to rise in the years to come.

The good news is Lyme disease can usually be treated with antibiotics over the course of two to four weeks, although in some cases, the symptoms can linger.

In any case, the best medicine is prevention, so it is a good idea to take the necessary steps to protect you and your loved ones from becoming infected in the first place.

The first step is to learn how to recognize the blacklegged tick. That can be difficult. Measuring up to five millimeters, the tick is smaller than the dog (wood) tick, so it can be easy to miss. The female blacklegged ticks tend to be red or brown, while the males are brown. And unlike the dog (wood) tick, the blacklegged tick does not have white markings on its back.

Another distinguishing feature of the blacklegged tick is the mark it leaves after biting its host. Within 30 days of being bitten, a person will often — but not always — develop a temporary rash in the shape of a bull’s eye near the site of the bite.

Although blacklegged ticks are present from April to November, experts say the young ticks are most active during the summer months, while adults are more active in the fall. According to the City of Winnipeg’s website, the blacklegged tick was first noticed in Manitoba in 1989.

But a map on the provincial government’s website shows blacklegged ticks can now be found in many parts of southern Manitoba, including areas around Killarney, Pilot Mound, Pembina Valley Provincial Park, St. Malo, Richer, Beaudry Provincial Park and the southeast corner of the province.

It is expected they will expand their territory over time. When heading into these and other wooded areas, it is a good idea to take precautions, such as applying insect repellant containing DEET, or wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Should you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. This can be done by placing tweezers as close to the surface of the skin as possible to extract the tick. Once it is removed, wash and clean the area. If you notice a bull’s eye rash near the site of the bite, take a picture of it to show your health-care provider. This can assist with the diagnosis.

After a particularly harsh winter, the presence of blacklegged ticks should not deter you from enjoying the warm weather this summer. At the same time, they should serve as a reminder that we must always be conscious of our surroundings and take the necessary measures to reduce the risks associated with living in the great outdoors.

For more information about Lyme disease, visit the www.gov.mb.ca/ health/lyme.

Dr. Bunmi Fatoye is medical officer of health and communicable diseases lead with the Winnipeg Health Region’s population and public health program.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2014 a23

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