Lyme Disease

Apr 23, 2012

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy


I reffed hockey for one season as a teenager. One game my reffing partner was my math teacher, Mr. Hildebrand. It was kinda cool working with my teacher as a co-worker. Before the game, Mr. Hildebrand asked how our hockey team was doing. I said we were doing okay, but unfortunately wed lost our best player. Andrew Ritchie had made the regional AAA team and was now playing for them. Mr. Hildebrand was very surprised that our best player was Andrew. At first I thought it was because if you saw Andrew at school, you might not think he was a star hockey player. He was a shorter, stockier guy. That wasnt it at all. Mr. Hildebrand said, Really, Andrew? You mean the boy with the health problem? Now I was very confused. Andrew was one of the healthiest, most athletic guys I knew. Then it slowly dawned on me that Mr. Hildebrand was just incredibly nave. Andrew was very smart and got good grades. He just wasnt fond of going to class. He especially wasnt fond of going to morning classes and Mr. Hildebrands math class was the first class of the day. Mr. Hildebrand assumed that since he had missed so many of his classes that Andrew had a health problem. You know the saying, What you dont know cant hurt you? Those might not be words to live by.

With the early spring we are having, it seems everything is coming out earlier than usual. Bill McDougall was telling his daughter that he had already seen some ticks out. I hate wood ticks. It varies day to day if I hate wood ticks or leeches more, but both of those blood suckers give me the willies. As annoying as wood ticks are, they dont usually spread disease in Manitoba. There is a new type of tick in Manitoba that we should be more aware of, though. It is the deer tick or blacklegged tick. The blacklegged tick is quite a bit smaller that the wood tick that most of us are familiar with. Before feeding, adult females are approximately 3-5 mm in length and red and dark brown in colour. Ticks feed on blood by attaching to animals or people with their mouth parts. Females are a little larger than males. Blacklegged ticks really arent that common in Manitoba yet. They seem to be slowly spreading in from the South East corner of the province. The Manitoba Government has a Blacklegged Tick Surveillance Program. Blacklegged ticks have been submitted from many locations in southern Manitoba and occasionally from more northern areas. Tick submissions range from about 150 to 300 blacklegged ticks per year. Adult blacklegged ticks are most active in the spring and fall. They remain active until the first permanent snowfall or when air temperatures are consistently below 4C. The reason you should be aware of this relatively uncommon tick is that blacklegged or deer ticks can spread Lyme disease.


What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The blacklegged tick bites a mouse or deer and picks up the Lyme disease bacteria. Then the blacklegged ticks can bite a human, spread the bacteria and give the human Lyme disease. It is important to remember that not all ticks in Manitoba carry Lyme disease. As far as we know it is just carried by the blacklegged ticks and they arent very common in Manitoba. Not all blacklegged ticks have the Lyme disease bacteria on them either, so just because a blacklegged tick bites you, doesnt mean it has the Lyme disease bacteria to pass on. Finally tests on lab animals have shown that an infected blacklegged tick must be attached to a lab animal for 24 hours to pass on the Lyme disease bacteria. So we assume that a blacklegged tick must be attached to a human for 24 hours to pass on Lyme disease as well.


What kind of symptoms do people with Lyme disease have? Many people (70 to 80 per cent) will develop a rash three to 30 days after a bite from an infected tick. This rash, known as Erythema migrans (EM), is a red expanding skin rash usually more than five cm in diameter. It is not tender or itchy and usually occurs at the site of the tick bite; often the centre clears and it looks like a bulls eye. The other early symptoms of Lyme disease are common to many diseases. These symptoms include: a rash other than EM, headache, fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, joint pain or swollen lymph nodes. People with an untreated Lyme disease infection may continue to experience symptoms for months or years, including headaches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, stiff neck, irregular heartbeat, or joint pain and swelling.


How do you prevent getting Lyme disease? If you have been out in the bush or long grass, inspect yourself, your kids and pets for ticks. If you find one, remove it. It is recommended to remove a tick with tweezers. Get the tweezers close to the skin and pull slowly upward on the ticks mouth parts with steady pressure. Ideally you should avoid twisting or crushing the tick. Clean the skin around the tick bite with soap and water. Mark the date and location on the body of the tick bite on the calendar for future reference.

Other ways to avoid ticks are: wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirts so most of your skin is covered, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks, and use bug spray with DEET in it that says for use against ticks on the product label.


In the unlikely event you do contract Lyme disease, we can treat it. Like many things, the earlier you go to your doctor with symptoms, the better. If your doctor confirms you have Lyme disease, it can be treated with common antibiotics like doxycycline.


Lyme disease is not a common condition in Manitoba. It shouldnt cause you to never go outdoors again. But dont be nave either. What you dont know can hurt you, and being completely nave about Lyme disease isnt a good idea.


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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


Manitoba Health Lyme disease info:

Where black legged ticks are in Manitoba:


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