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What Manitobans need to know as tick season begins

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Now that the snow has melted in Manitoba, residents are being reminded to keep their eyes open for ticks.

Kateryn Rochon, an associate professor of veterinary entomology at the University of Manitoba, says there are several species of ticks around the world and in Manitoba, but the two main ones to be aware of in the province are wood ticks (also known as American dog ticks) and black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks).

"We're concerned, mostly because they're ectoparasites. So they bite us, they bite our pets, and they suck our blood, which is unpleasant. And in the case of black-legged ticks, they can, if they are infected, they can transmit certain pathogens."

One of those pathogens is Lyme disease, which Rochon says in the most commonly acquired tick-borne illness in North America and in Manitoba.

Lyme disease can be transmitted if an infected black legged tick is latched on to someone for at least 24 hours. The bacteria travels from the gut of the tick to the host as the tick feeds and eventually gets transferred through the tick's saliva.

WHAT DOES LYME DISEASE LOOK LIKE?

If someone becomes infected with Lyme disease, one of the first noticeable symptoms is a bullseye rash around the bite site.

Rochon said around 70 to 80 per cent of people infected will get the rash.

"Not everybody gets it, though. So if you're one of the unlucky people who doesn't get that sign in the first month or so, after an infection, people usually will have some flu-like symptoms and then that can go away. After that, when the infection has progressed, then there can other symptoms that actually vary quite a bit."

Rochon said if the ticks are caught before the 24-hour mark, there is probably a good chance Lyme was not transferred, however, if it isn't caught, she recommends people go to the doctor and get antibiotics.

She said the earlier a tick is found, the more successful treatment is.

Rochon recommends people check every day, even if they haven't been outside much, during tick season.

"It's the tick that you don't find that is the most dangerous."

According to the Manitoba government, there has been 579 total reported cases of Lyme disease in the province between 2009 and 2021.

Recently, 2019 had the highest number of total cases – 34 confirmed, 34 probable cases and 22 listed as other, meaning they have been reported by a physician or lab report, but don't meet national surveillance case definitions.

In 2021, there were 19 confirmed cases, 19 probable cases and 11 listed as other for a total of 49.

The government says final data for 2022 will be available in the coming weeks.

PREVENTING TICK BITES

Lincoln Poulin, the president of Poulin's Pest Control, said people can run into ticks in the bush along hiking trails and even in their own backyards.

Close to home, he recommends keeping grass short, which limits the ability of ticks residing nearby.

"People that like to do a lot of backpacking or hiking through dense bush, it's recommended that they consider putting their pants into their sock, or having deet resistant clothes and footwear," said Poulin.

"Keep in mind that when they're done their walk, that they make sure there are no ticks crawling on them."

The Manitoba government also recommends wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts as well making sure the clothing is light-coloured to make it easier to see if they are crawling on someone.

If someone does get bit, Poulin said the best way to remove them is with a clean set of tweezers and grabbing the tick as close to the skin as possible to ensure nothing is left behind.

Like Rochon, he said ticks can show up anytime after winter has disappeared, but noted he starts to receive calls about them around May long weekend.

Outside of the negative impacts ticks can have on humans and animals, Rochon was asked if they provide any benefit to the ecosystem. She said ticks are alive because they can be.

"The whole purpose of being alive, I know as humans we don't like to do (this) and we have philosophy and all this, but really, the purpose is to get your genes to the next generation. And ticks do that because they can. They don't serve a particular purpose. They exist because they can. That's it. There's no redeeming quality," said Rochon.

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