From snow-melt to snow-fall, Manitobans experience that ever-so-slight tickle of something slowly making its way up the back of the leg .. or the back of the neck – the dreaded wood tick!
Here’s a fun fact: Ticks start to get active at temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celsius.
We love our summers, but those of us living south of the 53rd parallel know that warmer weather brings tick season, and it’s like we all forget about those annoying little critters until we find that first one, and then it’s … ‘oh yeah ….”
The common wood tick, although annoying, isn’t as dangerous to human health as is the black-legged tick, known as the deer tick. This tick is most easily identified by its reddish-orange body, black shield on its back and dark black legs. It is known to transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis.
We hear more about Lyme disease each year, a tick-borne disease that causes a variety of symptoms including fever, fatigue, joint stiffness, muscle aches and tingling hands and feet. Left undiagnosed, symptoms continue to worsen and can be debilitating.
Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis, on the other hand, are rarely talked about but also have severe outcomes if undiagnosed.
Anaplasmosis is an illness marked by flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches and headache, with symptoms appearing from 5-21 days after a tick bite. Left untreated, it can result in serious or life-threatening complications.
Babesiosis is an infection similar to malaria, and if left untreated, can be a serious, fatal disease, especially for the elderly and people who are immunosuppressed. It can also cause life-threatening complications. Including renal, liver and heart failure and respiratory distress syndrome.
In 2015, the tick-borne Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis both became provincial reportable diseases in Manitoba.
Dr. Santina Lee is a Medical Officer of Health with Manitoba Health’s Communicable Disease Control Unit and Population in Public Health. Dr. Lee says they know the black-legged tick can be found across southern Manitoba, some areas more than others, but with their mode of surveillance, it is difficult to track tick populations and locations. “But we do know that with climate change, changes to our weather overall, that it is shifting, what the tick location is like, and so it is something for all of us to be on the lookout for.”
“Lyme disease is definitely something that we continue to see every year,” she notes. “We’re not seeing an exponential increase at this point but there are still a fair number of cases reported every single year.”
Prevention is the key for all tick bites!
One can purchase tick repellant, but with or without repellant one should inspect themselves and loved ones and pets for ticks. When out walking or hiking try to stay on the path and away from high grass and woodsy areas, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and do keep your grass and shrubs short around your home.
If you do find a tick on yourself or loved-one, (whether it is free roaming or attached) remove the tick immediately, take a picture of it and then visit the e-tick website to identify it - and to share your findings on the website with those who are monitoring populations and locations.
If it is attached and/or engorged, remove it, identify it and you will need to watch for a rash that resembles a target shape, like a bulls-eye, at the bite site.
“If you think you’ve had what we call a ‘high risk’ tick bite it would be very important for the individual to go and see their health care provider within 72 hours of tick removal because you could be given an antibiotic as a preventative treatment of Lyme disease," shares Dr. Lee. "When I talk about a ‘high risk’ tick bite I mean a bite that is from a black-legged tick, that has been attached for a minimum of 36 hours or that the tick is engorged at the time of removal, and it occurred in southern Manitoba, or a known black-legged tick area."
“The big thing is knowing how to prevent tick bites, and then using the e-tick app to help identify what kind of tick it is, and this will be useful for other people, so that they know where black-legged ticks have been found. There’s a map on that web page,” Dr. Lee adds, “and then if you think you’ve had a high-risk tick bite to go and see your heath care provider to get assessed as to whether or not you should get preventative antibiotic.”
So, dear reader, if you’re feeling itchy after reading this article about these tiny blood-sucking arachnids, perhaps that’s a good thing so that you're more aware of what’s crawling up the back of your leg, as well as what could be crawling on your friends and family members! Look carefully, because an adult blacklegged tick is very tiny, much smaller than the common wood tick. (They like to snuggle in around the hairline)
Another fun fact: The adult female black-legged tick is only about 0.3 cm long (0.118 inches) and is larger than its male counterpart.
For more information on ticks in Manitoba, please visit the following link: eTick -
Please listen to more of the interview with Dr. Santina Lee and Golden West's Barry Lamb below:
The picture below shows 5 female blacklegged ticks in different stages of feeding.
Unfed female ticks are dark reddish-brown. They:
- become paler brown to yellow as they start to feed
- become greyish as they continue to feed
- are dark grey-brown when fully fed
As they feed, the tick's stomach gets bigger. The tick grows from approximately 0.3 cm when unfed to 0.6 cm when partially fed.
When fully fed, the tick is:
- about 1cm long
Points on the map below reflect the different locations where ticks were reported and not the total number of submissions. Only the most recent 20,000 data points are displayed on the map taken from Canada's etick website as of May 16, 2023.