Lyme disease season is here, province warns to be on alert

One Manitoba woman went undiagnosed with Lyme disease for 15 months and attended more than 40 doctors appointments.

In 2014, there were 34 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease in Manitoba

Life stages of the blacklegged tick (1-larva, 2-nymph, 3-adult male, 4-adult female). Sizes presented in relation to underlying 10-cent coin. Blacklegged ticks are so small it's possible to be bitten without noticing. (Robbin Lindsay/Public Health Agency of Canada)

Winnipegger Jan Cmela competed in adventure racing and biking until she contracted Lyme disease two years ago, now she is advocating for better education of Manitobans so others don't have to suffer the way she has.

Cmela was training for a 28-kilometre obstacle bike race in B.C. when she was hit with symptoms she described as numbness and tingling in her head, dizziness, cognitive issues and exhaustion. 

"It is pretty brutal considering I went from this person that really pushed the envelope on everything I did," Cmela told CBC's Radio Noon 

More than a year later, after seeing five specialists and going to more than 40 medical appointments, Cmela said, adding her doctors were convinced her symptoms were not the result of a head injury as originally thought. By this time, she said symptoms had spread to her bladder and stomach. 

At a friend's suggestion, Cmela went to a naturopath in Winnipeg who diagnosed her with Lyme disease, even though she had never been knowingly bitten by a tick.  
Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease but not every tick carries it. (Manitoba Health)

"I went from a very active person, training for races, biking all the time, doing adventure races and then one day I had neurological symptoms, full blown, and I've been sick ever since," she said. 

May is Lyme disease awareness month and Winnipeg's city hall will be lit green on Thursday to show support 

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, according to Manitoba Health, that can be transmitted to people through blacklegged tick, or deer tick bites. Not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. 

The tick must be attached for 24 hours before the bacteria will be transmitted to someone who has been bitten. 

It's estimated that 70 to 80 per cent of people develop an expanding rash within three to 30 days of being bitten by an infected tick and early symptoms include headache, fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, joint pain or swollen lymph nodes, according to Manitoba Health.  

If undiagnosed, symptoms can persist for months or years but Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Lyme disease became nationally reportable in 2009 and 114 confirmed or probable cases have been reported to Manitoba Health in the time since, 34 of these cases were reported in 2014.

Other diseases, called anaplasmosis and babesiosis, can be transmitted by ticks and have been reportable in Manitoba since Jan. 1, 2015. 

Symptoms of anaplasmosis has similar symptoms to Lyme disease but also involves blood abnormalities or liver abnormalities. Babesiosis also presents with flu-like symptoms.  Both diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.​

Where is it in Manitoba?

Manitoba Health has identified a number of risk areas which are more likely to have ticks carrying Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babeisosis.

The red indicates what Manitoba Health has designated as 'risk areas' for Lyme disease in the province. (CBC)

It includes:

  • The southeast corner of the province, where the border meets Ontario and Minnesota, which extends north into Moose Lake Provincial Park and west to Sprague.
  • The Pembina Valley region, from the U.S. border to the Rural Municipality of South Norfolk in the north and Killarney in the west, plus portions of the valley escarpment near Morden and Miami.
  • The Assiniboine corridor, which extends west from the Beaudry Provincial Park along the Assiniboine River and some of its tributaries such as the Souris River, as far as the Spruce Woods Provincial Park and the Brandon Hills Wildlife Management Area.
  • The St. Malo region including the St. Malo Provincial Park and the communities of Vita and Arbakka near the U.S. border and north through the communities of Roseau River, Kleefeld and St. Malo.
  • The Richer and Ste. Genevieve area, located east of Winnipeg along the Agassiz and Sandilands provincial forests, extending south to Ste. Anne and north into the Birds Hill Provincial Park.
  • The southern lakes area, which consists of two isolated risk areas - one located on the southeast shore of Lake Manitoba in the St. Ambroise Provincial Park and the other along the southeast shore of Lake Winnipeg in the Patricia Beach Provincial Park.
  • The Winnipeg area, which consists of isolated pockets along the Red, Seine and Assiniboine River corridors.