Saskatchewan

Only 'a matter of time' before Lyme disease-carrying ticks spill into Sask., says scientist

Disease-carrying ticks are on a relentless march through Canada and it’s only a matter of time before they spill over into Saskatchewan, says a microbiologist.

Research scientist says ticks have spread from throughout Manitoba in last 13 years

An adult black-legged tick. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

Disease-carrying ticks are on a relentless march through Canada and it's only a matter of time before they spill over into Saskatchewan, says a microbiologist.

Robbin Lindsay, a research scientist at the national microbiology lab in Brandon, said the biggest concern is blacklegged ticks, which are occasionally seen in small numbers moving into Saskatchewan.

They've spread from the eastern side of Manitoba to its western border, according to Lindsay.

"It's just a matter of time before they spill over into Saskatchewan and you have populations of those Lyme disease-transmitting ticks present in Saskatchewan," he told CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition

These ticks are much smaller than ticks commonly found on dogs. The females having a reddish-orange appearance and the males have a mostly brown appearance.

Tick bites will present in 70 to 80 per cent of cases with a rash, which may not always show up in a bullseye pattern, said Lindsay. Instead, he says people should look for a spreading red rash, that reaches as large as five centimetres or more, to indicate a tick bite that may or may not result in an infection.

Spread of the tick

Disease-carrying ticks are spreading in Canada

2 years ago
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Researchers are tracking the spread of blacklegged ticks. 0:17

Lindsay first started studying blacklegged ticks for his PhD research back in 1989 in Long Point, Ont., the only place in Canada they were found at that time.

Now the population exists in parts of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The ticks were first seen in Manitoba in 2006 and have been spreading throughout that province over the last 13 years.

They're dangerous and scary looking, but they're quite fascinating at the same time.- Robbin Lindsay, microbiologist

Ticks are active in the spring, summer and autumn months and have a remarkable tenacity, with no real natural enemies to curb their population, said Lindsay.   

"Nothing really seem to deter them. It's their 'stick-to-it-iveness' I think that fascinates me the most."

While Lyme disease is most commonly associated with ticks, they can also cause rare instances of other diseases, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis or Powassan disease, he said.

"I call them microbial sponges, because they can pick up all kinds of different disease-causing agents and transmit them," said Lindsay.

"They're dangerous and scary looking, but they're quite fascinating at the same time."

with files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition

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