How Manitoba farmers can help control tick-related health risks

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA – May 10, 2019 – Cases of Lyme disease resulting from blacklegged tick bites continue to increase in Manitoba, according to the provincial government’s most recent tick-borne disease report. In 2018, there were 28 confirmed cases in Manitoba as compared to only one in 2009. The highest incidence rates have been found in the Interlake region and primarily occurred in males over 60.

For farmers, avoiding the outdoors and contact with vegetation where ticks are most abundant is nearly impossible, especially for commodities like beekeeping. Paul Gregory, Vice-President of the Manitoba Beekeepers’ association and President of Interlake Forage Seeds in Fisher Branch, says Lyme disease is a major concern among beekeepers.

“We work kneeling down in grassed areas close to trees, every day, all season long. Ticks pose a serious threat to our employees and their family’s health - this cannot be understated. Several of our members have been hit hard by Lyme disease and it is truly sad to see.”

Lyme disease cannot be transmitted by wood ticks. A bite from a blacklegged tick carrying the Borrelia bacteria is the only known way a person or animal can contract Lyme disease. That said, not all blacklegged ticks carry the Borrelia bacteria.

According to Dr. Kateryn Rochon, professor at the University of Manitoba’s entomology department, only around 10% of the blacklegged ticks analyzed test positive for Lyme disease, most of which are female ticks. Ronchon says this is because male ticks do not normally attach and feed, and are therefore less likely to carry and transmit Borrelia bacteria.

The nymphal stage is the stage most likely to infect people with Lyme disease, and occurs during the spring and early summer months. This is due to their small size which prevents people from promptly noticing and removing them from their bodies.

Adult female blacklegged ticks are typically larger - about the size of a sesame seed - and are distinguishable by a black round “shield” behind their head. Unlike the larger, more common reddish-coloured wood tick, adult blacklegged ticks do not have any silver markings on their backs.

“Usually symptoms develop approximately one month after being exposed to an infected blacklegged tick that has been attached for at least 72 hours,” says Dr. Jared Bullard, a Pediatric Infectious Diseases expert and associate professor at the University of Manitoba.

“The most common symptom is a target-like rash with the centre (or “bullseye”) being where the tick would have latched. This may not be obvious though, as ticks prefer the hairline, armpit and groin area.”

Dr. Bullard goes on to say that a second rash of the same appearance and location typically occurs a few weeks after the first, but is more obvious as it spreads across the body. He notes that joint pain and swelling are the other common symptoms, and that Lyme disease is very treatable with an excellent response to simple antibiotics.

“Your doctor can order a simple blood test to determine if you have Lyme disease, and if a rash is present (within one month of infected tick exposure), this test yields more sensitive results.”

Preventative measures and proper removal

DEET is the recommended repellant for ticks and should be reapplied every four hours to ensure its effectiveness. Apply the repellant over the entire body with particular attention on the foot and leg area. When walking in grassy and/or wooded areas, close toed shoes and long pants tucked in to socks should be worn to reduce the chances of a tick reaching your skin.

A tick must be attached for at least 72 hours to transmit the Borrelia bacteria as the bacteria needs time to migrate from the tick’s gut to its salivary glands. Because of this delay, prompt detection and removal of ticks is one of the key methods of preventing Lyme disease. Regular tick checks are important.

Remove the tick as close as possible to the skin using a pair of tweezers. Do not squeeze a tick by the body, or panic and smack it. When startled, ticks will expel saliva which may contain dangerous bacteria or pathogens.

Once removed, swab the area with alcohol. If you suspect it is a blacklegged tick, you can submit a photo to Manitoba’s Blacklegged Tick Passive Surveillance Program using their online tool. Their staff will review the image to determine if it is a blacklegged tick and contact you with further instructions. Note that the purpose of the passive surveillance program is meant to gain further information about the distribution of blacklegged tick populations, not to inform a clinical diagnosis.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to defend your own yard and land against ticks is keeping grass short and other vegetation groomed. Whether by animal grazing pasture land, or mowing, the goal is to reduce the places ticks can thrive.


For more information, contact Renée Simcoe at (204) 924-6018

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