A record number of cases of Lyme disease has been reported in Quebec so far this year, according to data released by the provincial Health Ministry.
In total, 371 cases have been reported in 2019 to date, compared with 304 in 2018 and 329 in 2017.
The number of cases has increased steadily since 2011, when there were only 32 cases reported. That jumped to 125 by 2014 and 177 in 2016.
This year, the Eastern Townships reported the highest number of cases of Lyme disease, with all but 10 of 139 cases originating in the province.
In Montreal, 62 people were infected, with 30 cases originating in Quebec, 31 outside of Quebec, and one case of unknown origin.
The second-highest concentration of cases is in the Montérégie, where 84 people were infected while in Quebec and eight others were infected outside of the province.
Dr. Geneviève Baron, the head of public health in the Eastern Townships and a member of the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Network, told CBC that "each year there are new regions where the tick is now found, so we're seeing the effect of climate change."
"Their habitat is expanding, so they have a lot more hosts to feed on," Baron said.
People shouldn't panic if they see a tick, however, she said.
"Even if you're bitten, it doesn't mean you'll have Lyme disease. The tick has to be infected, and it's not all ticks that are infected by the disease," said Baron. "It has to feed on the host for at least 24 or 36 hours to be able to transmit the disease."
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria entering the body through an infected tick bite.
The health consequences of untreated Lyme disease are serious and include heart, joint and neurological problems. The symptoms may not show up right away, and they can linger for years. However, if the disease is caught early, it can be effectively treated with antibiotics.
Where can you get bitten by a tick?
Tick bites can happen in a wide range of settings in the great outdoors, including forests, tall grass, gardens near woodlands and shrub.
When you head outdoors, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck your pants into your socks if hiking through long grass.
At the end of the day, examine yourself for ticks — their bites aren't painful, so you might not feel anything strange when you're outdoors.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
A common sign of Lyme disease is a bull's eye-shaped rash on the skin.
Symptoms can appear up to 30 days after a tick bite. They can include:
- Reddening of the skin around the bite or elsewhere.
- A fast-spreading rash.
- Joint pain.