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      Sunday, November 23, 2014
Saskatchewan! Healthy people. A healthy province.

About Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a rare disease of humans, wildlife, and domestic animals. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and usually is transmitted by ticks.

In Canada, populations of infected ticks are established in parts of southern Ontario, the southeastern corner of Manitoba, areas along the south shore of Nova Scotia and in BC. The disease can be characterized by a special rash (i.e. erythema migrans) at an early stage. If untreated, in the later stages, the disease can involve major organ systems such as musculoskeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.

The risk for Lyme disease in Saskatchewan

Currently the risk for Lyme disease in Saskatchewan is low but not zero. The province maintains a surveillance system to monitor all ticks in the province. Many hundreds of ticks are sent in by the public through public health departments and the University of Saskatchewan for identification and testing.

The great majority of ticks (>97%) are the American dog tick, sometimes called "wood ticks". This species is not considered to be a competent vector of Lyme disease.

A few ticks (0.3%) are the blacklegged tick, or "deer tick" and are occasionally found in the province. These are most likely carried to Saskatchewan by migrating birds and a small percentage of these may be infected with the agent that causes Lyme disease. The blacklegged ticks do not appear to have established themselves in Saskatchewan at this time.

Blacklegged ticks can be active from early spring to September and both the nymph and adult stages can bite humans and other animals. Overwintered and new adult ticks are most common in the early spring and fall period, whereas the smaller nymphs are generally most active and peak in the summer months. However, the period they can be collected is much wider and they can be found from early spring and into September as well.

Tick photo 1             Photo of tick and fingertip           Tick stages of engorgment
Photos courtesy of Robbin Lindsay, National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada.

There have been occasional sporadic cases of Lyme disease reported in Saskatchewan. Some of these are related to travel to an area where Lyme disease is common. However, the most recent case was most likely acquired in Saskatchewan.

Taking precautions

It is important to take precautions to protect yourself against tick bites.

Ticks are found in tall grass, brush or wooded areas throughout southern Saskatchewan. When in areas that have ticks:

  • Wear light-coloured clothing, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, enclosed shoes or boots and a hat when outdoors;
  • Tuck pants into socks;
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and clothing; follow the directions carefully; and
  • When hiking, stay on paths and avoid contact with overgrown brush.

At night or when returning from outdoors:

  • Remove clothes and do a daily "tick check." Some ticks are quite small - the size of a pin-head or freckle; and
  • Regularly check children and pets after they have been outside in risk areas. Carefully remove all ticks.

If you have been bitten by a tick you should remove the tick with fine-tipped tweezers and save the tick in a double freezer bag or pill bottle with a piece of moist (not wet) paper towel. Place the tick in the refrigerator so that if symptoms develop the tick can then be sent in for testing.

See http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html for tick removal instructions.

If you develop symptoms suggestive of Lyme disease after a tick bite be sure to consult your doctor.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Symptoms include erythema migrans, rash, fever. The symptoms of Lyme disease usually happen in three stages, although not all patients have every symptom. The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash called erythema migrans or EM. This rash occurs in about 70-80 percent of infected people. It begins at the site of the tick bite after a delay of three days to one month. Other common symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever , headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes.

If untreated, the second stage of the disease can last up to several months and include central and peripheral nervous system disorders, multiple skin rashes, arthritis and arthritic symptoms, heart palpitations, extreme fatigue and general weakness.

If the disease remains untreated, the third stage can last months to years with symptoms that can include recurring arthritis and neurological problems.

Fatalities from Lyme disease are rare.

What should you do if you think you have Lyme disease

If you have a history of tick bite, symptoms of Lyme disease, and have traveled to an area where Lyme disease ticks are established sometimes your physician may recommend treatment even before test results are available. However, if you have not traveled outside Saskatchewan, usually it is preferable to wait for the results of testing through the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory (SCDL) as there can be other causes for these common symptoms.

Testing

Testing is available for Lyme disease through the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory (SCDL).

Information regarding testing for physicians is available at:

SDCL Newsletter Feb 2012 (see page 6)
SDCL Newsletter June 2008 (see page 3)
SDCL Newsletter May 2007  (see page 7)

Submitting ticks for testing

Ticks can be submitted through the Biology Department at the U of S. Their address is:
Chilton Parasitology Laboratory, Biology Department
Rm. 310, University of Saskatchewan
112 Science Place
Saskatoon, SK S7N 5E2
Phone: (306) 966-2982/966-4407
Email: neil.chilton@usask.ca

Related Links

Tips for taking precautions when outdoors.  

Detailed information on Lyme disease.

Provincial programs to prevent the spread of preventable diseases and to promote risk reduction efforts.



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