Tick season now underway

Alberta isn’t yet a hot spot for ticks carrying Lyme disease, but they are here — and farmers should be on guard

The blacklegged tick, or deer tick, has become infamous for transmitting Lyme disease
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Ticks may be unavoidable in farming, but getting bitten isn’t.

The blacklegged tick, or deer tick, has become infamous for transmitting Lyme disease (which counts muscle aches, joint, heart and neurological problems and fatigue among its many symptoms), babesiosis (also causing flu-like symptoms and ramping up to anorexia, joint pain and a possible hospital visit), and anaplamosis (which ranges from flu-like symptoms to respiratory and neurological problems, kidney failure and death).

Prevention is once again the top advice of experts, such as using set trails and staying in the centre of paths to avoid contact with vegetation. That’s a hard sell to farmers, whose very job includes hours outside walking through fields and pastures where the pests are likely to crawl.

But while farming, by its nature, puts workers at risk, Manitoba’s medical officer of health dismisses the idea that farmers cannot avoid the bite.

“They’re out there and they’re checking their fenceline and they have to walk through that long grass, so if they’ve done some pre-prevention, like they’ve tucked their pants in, they’ve sprayed DEET all over their legs, that sort of stuff, that’s excellent and that required an extra five minutes before they went out,” said Dr. Richard Rusk. “Therefore, even more so for our outdoor farming population, our workers like the hydro workers and people who have to go and work outside in the bush, the second component is really, really important. And that is every night, you get in the tub or you get in the shower and you make sure you check yourself.”

A rash like this can be a symptom of Lyme disease but the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation says such a rash appears in less than half of cases. photo: Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation video

People are encouraged to use a tick-specific repellent (such as those containing DEET), and to wear light-coloured clothes (to better see ticks before they attach) and long shirts and pants with the legs tucked into socks. Clothes should be laundered immediately (with the heat turned up in the dryer) after wandering through a blacklegged tick risk area.

Manitoba — along with Eastern Canada and southern B.C. — have been officially designated a “risk area” by Health Canada, but ticks are showing up in Alberta.

For example, the Central Alberta Lyme Society, has been posting warnings and photos on its Facebook and Twitter sites — including a recent photo taken at Coal Lake (near Leduc) which shows ticks covering the ears of a rabbit.

Alberta Health’s website has information on how to properly remove a tick and its Submit A Tick program.

Go see a doctor if you experience flu-like symptoms and it’s possible you were bitten by a tick, said Rusk, arguing a bit of time off work is a small price to pay for minimizing risk, given the potential impact of infection.

“If you get really sick with this or even if you do get bitten and you catch it nice and early, you have to leave the farm and get into town,” he said.

Untreated cases of Lyme disease can stretch symptoms for months or years and spread to joints, the heart or the nervous system.

– With staff files

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