WINNIPEG – At this time of year they could be as small as a poppy seed, but no matter the size, a black-legged tick can carry a potentially nasty bite.
May is Lyme Disease awareness month and it is one of several tick-borne diseases doctors say an increasing number of Manitobans are contracting.
The infection can lead to headaches, dizziness, joint pain, difficulty concentrating and even speaking. In some cases symptoms can linger for years.
In 2009, there were just 11 cases in the province. In 2013, that number had quadrupled, to 44.
And the ticks carrying the bacterial infection are no longer sticking to remote rural bush.
They can now be found in Winnipeg, particularly in the southeast corner, along the Red River and Seine River corridors.
“You’re being exposed to more ticks, and they’re in areas where you’re not expecting them,” said Dr. Richard Rusk, medical officer with Manitoba Health.
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Blacklegged ticks survive best in moist and wooded areas where there are also suitable sources of ” blood meals.”
People and animals can be exposed to the disease when they are fed upon, but not all ticks carry the bacteria.
Doctors say the key is to check for ticks as soon as you’ve been in the bush. If you find one and pull it off right away, the odds of contracting Lyme disease is very low, because the tick usually feeds within 24 hours.
Symptoms often include a rash and later, flu-like symptoms, but doctors say each case is different.
Jan Cmela says she struggled for months with constant sinus pressure, head pain and fatigue, but it wasn’t until a friend suggested the possibility of Lyme disease that doctors later checked for the infection.
“I just want people to be aware,” said Cmela. “I don’t advocate people staying out of the bush, but definitely, check yourself.”