Lyme group expects bad tick year in Manitoba

A Lyme disease advocacy group says this year could be a particularly bad one for tick-borne illnesses in Manitoba.

Warm spells this winter allowed mice populations to flourish in the province and the rodents that play a crucial role in the cycle of Lyme disease, said Marnie LePage, who speaks for the group Manitoba Lyme Disease.

"The mice population is actually increasing and they are the carriers," she said Monday.​

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick larvae feed on mice, birds and other small animals in the summer and early fall at which time they can become infected with illnesses including Lyme. The ticks remain infectious throughout their two-year life span and can pass along Lyme to hosts like humans through a bite.

"People need to be really aware that there are ticks out there," said LePage.

Her group is especially worried about deer ticks this year — also called black-legged ticks — which carry the bacteria associated with Lyme.

"Their populations are increasing across the province," said LePage.

"They like to be where there are lots animals or rodents because that's where they typically feed."

Ticks like moist environments, like piles of leaves, and the long grasses that line trails.

To protect yourself from the bugs, LePage recommends wearing long socks, light clothing that so ticks are visible and wearing bug spray containing at least 20 per cent DEET.

Symptoms of a tick-borne illness are wide-ranging, but 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. 

"Not everybody gets the rash and that's important to know," LePage said.

To remove a tick, LePage said people should avoid smothering the insect with substances like oil or Vaseline because the insects will expel everything in their mouths, releasing more bacteria into your body before they fall off.

She suggests instead using tweezers and just gently pulling the tick out straight without squeezing it.

"It's important to clean the area as well and if you have symptoms you should see your doctor," she said.