Tick season in Manitoba: How to protect yourself from bites

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It’s time to finally go outdoors! Spring and summer ushers in the season for activities like gardening, hiking and camping. Unfortunately, it’s also the season for ticks.

What are ticks?

Ticks are actually arachnids, which means that they are part of the spider family. Unlike insects, they have eight legs. According to Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD (Ticks, MedicineNet.com), Ticks need blood meals to complete their life cycles. There many kinds of ticks (around 800 species all over the world) but only two families are known to transmit disease (hard ticks and soft ticks). In Manitoba, we are warned to take precaution against blacklegged ticks because they are known to be carriers of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis (a malaria-like illness). They come out from early spring to late fall.

How to prevent tick bites:

As part of Lyme Disease Awareness Month, the Winnipeg Health Region encourages Manitobans to:

  1. learn where ticks are located
  2. minimize risk of exposure
  3. recognize the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease

Learn where ticks are located

Generally, ticks can be found in wooded or brushy areas outdoors where there is moisture. “They can be found within and along the edge of forests and in areas with thick, woody shrubs and other vegetation” (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority). The WRHA has pinpointed seven specific current risk areas in Manitoba:

  • Southeast corner of the province – where the border meets Ontario and Minnesota, extending north into Moose Lake Provincial Park and west to Sprague;
  • Pembina Valley region – from the US border to the RM of South Norfolk in the north and Killarney in the west plus portions of the valley escarpment near Morden and Miami;
  • Assiniboine corridor – extends west from the Beaudry Provincial Park along the Assiniboine River, and some of its tributaries.
  • St. Malo Region – St. Malo Provincial Park, communities of Vita and Arbakka, communities of Rousseau River, Kleefeld and St. Malo;
  • Richer/Ste. Genevieve area – east of Winnipeg along the Agassiz and Sandilands provincial forests; South to Ste. Anne and north into Birds Hill Provincial Park;
  • Southern Lakes area – southeast shore of Lake Manitoba in St. Ambroise Provincial Park and the southeast shore of Lake Winnipeg in Patricia Beah Provincial Park;
  • Winnipeg area – isolated pockets along the Red, Seine and Assiniboine River corridors.

Blacklegged ticks may be found in other areas of Manitoba but the risk of Lyme disease is relatively low outside these risk areas.

Minimize risk of exposure

The risk of tick bites should not prevent you from enjoying the outdoors. You and your family should, however, take simple steps to prevent exposure to ticks when outside. Here are tips from the Government of Canada:

  1. Wear closed toe shoes and cover exposed skin.
  2. Wear socks.
  3. Tuck in your long-sleeved shirt into your pants.
  4. If trekking, wear a hat and scarf (if possible treated with permethrin insecticide).
  5. Dress in light coloured clothing.
  6. Walk in the centre of trails and avoid tall vegetation.
  7. Use an appropriate insect repellent like DEET or Icaridin (or Picaridin).
    • Use as directed by the manufacturer.
    • Don’t spray directly to your face.
    • Don’t use products that contain both insect repellent and sunscreen.
    • If you need sunscreen, apply it first. Apply the repellent after about 15 minutes.
    • You can re-apply repellent especially if you are being bitten or when exposure is more likely.
  8. If camping, make sure your accommodations are well-screened or completely enclosed.
  9. Check your skin (and hair) for ticks after you’ve been outdoors. Don’t forget to check your kids and pets.
  10. Take a shower or bath within two hours of your return from the outdoors.

Recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease

Symptoms of tick-borne illness:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore joints
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Insomnia

A circular rash can also form from a blacklegged tick bite. It will look like a bulls-eye with an intense circular rash encircled by a bigger circle. However, it is important to note that not everyone infected will have this rash. Symptoms can start from about three days to one month after a tick bite.

If you perform a tick check and see a tick on your skin, don’t squash it. It could embed the tick deeper into your skin. Use a tweezer to carefully pick up the arachnid without twisting. This could break its body and leave the head in your skin. Put it in a jar or plastic bag. Take a photo of the tick and submit it to Manitoba Tick Checker to have it examined. Tick-borne diseases are treatable, especially in the early stages of infection. If you feel that you may have contracted a tick-borne disease, see your doctor immediately.

Sources: Take precautions to minimize tick exposure, WRHA; About Blacklegged ticks, Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living; Lyme group expects bad tick year in Manitoba, Laura Glowacki, CBC News. All accessed on May 4, 2017.

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