Lyme disease, carried by black-legged ticks, is on the rise. It can have a serious outcome. Protect yourself with socks, light-coloured clothing and bug spray armed with 10 per cent Deet, or higher.
As the warm days of summer begin to fade and thoughts of autumn leaves replace them, we tend to forget about the annoying and dangerous presence of insects. This was a very good summer for (lack of) mosquitoes, allowing us to truly enjoy outdoor activities.
Spending more time outdoors in summer, gardening, golfing, exercising or relaxing in the yard, also puts us at more risk from a variety of insects; in addition to mosquitoes there are bees, wasps, flies, and ticks.
Most people get over bites and stings, but some people have a strong reaction to them. Recognizing the difference between an ordinary reaction and a severe allergic reaction can mean the difference between life and death. If you notice swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, have trouble breathing, hives, dizziness or nausea, it is a sign you need to seek medical attention immediately.
Wasps have been finding places to build their nests and usually start to make an appearance in August and September. During the summer, there is an abundance of flowers for them as a food source, but as the flowers become less abundant they start to be attracted to our food and drink. Keeping our drinks covered, especially sweet drinks like juice and pop, is one way to keep insects away. Also, we should be sure to cover our food if we have it outside. Another way to keep insects away is to place a sweet drink or high protein food many feet away from the table to attract them. Wasp traps can be purchased or homemade with an empty pop bottle.
Another insect that is becoming increasingly worrisome, especially in Manitoba, is the black-legged tick, which is a carrier of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an emerging infectious disease, and both provincial and federal governments officially recognize the impact that it has on Canadians and their families.
Efforts to prevent and control Lyme disease are being made by a variety of stakeholders. The reported number of Lyme disease cases has increased from 144 cases in 2009 to 987 cases in 2016. The Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act, which received royal assent in 2014, required the federal government to develop a framework that would include the following three pillars: surveillance, education and awareness, and guidelines and best practices.
Black-legged ticks are commonly found within and along the edge of forests and in areas with thick, woody shrubs and other vegetation. The ticks like to be where there are lots of animals or rodents because that’s where they typically feed. They like moist environments, piles of leaves, and the long grasses that line trails. They are found from early spring through late fall. Lyme disease hot spots in Manitoba are:
- West side of Lake of the Woods
- Pembina escarpment, including Pembina Valley Provincial Park
- St. Malo region
- Vita/Arbakka region, including the Roseau River
- Beaudry Provincial Park
- Assiniboine River
- Areas next to the Agassiz
- Sandilands provincial forests
To protect yourself from the bugs, it is recommended that you wear long socks, light clothing so that ticks are visible, and bug spray containing at least 10 per cent Deet. Products containing higher concentrations than 10 per cent offer longer but not stronger protection. Ten per cent DEET is effective for about two hours; 24 per cent DEET is effective for about five hours.
Symptoms of a tick-borne illness are many and can include fever, chills, nausea, headache, stiff neck, sore joints, extreme fatigue and insomnia. A distinctive circular rash sometimes indicates that the tick was infected with Lyme disease. Symptoms can start about three days to one month after a tick bite. Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, and treatment is more successful the earlier it begins.
Two other diseases that can also be transmitted by a tick are babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Symptoms are similar to Lyme disease and both can be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, many people infected with babesiosis develop no symptoms.
Be sure to check clothing and even backpacks after coming in from outdoors. Having a bath or shower soon after coming indoors is a good way to find any ticks. Adult ticks are about the size of a sesame seed, and immature ticks are about the size of a poppy seed. This means that people may not even know that they have a tick attached to them.
To remove a tick, it is advised that you remove it gently, using tweezers without squeezing it. It is not recommended that you apply substances like oil or Vaseline because the insects will expel everything in their mouths, releasing more bacteria into your body.
If you find and remove a tick, cleanse the skin around the tick bite with soap and water or disinfectant. Mark the date and location of the tick bite on a calendar for future reference. If you develop a rash or other symptom, see your doctor as soon as possible. Not all ticks carry disease. Also ticks need time to prepare their bodies to feed and often do not start to feed for 24 hours, which gives you time to remove it.
If you wish to learn more about ticks and tickborne illnesses, you may find it on the following website:
I hope you have had a relatively bug free summer but remind you that the tick season can last well into the fall, so I recommend that you remain vigilant and play it safe with insects.
Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood and Speaker of the legislative assembly.