Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Lyme disease is a serious illness that may affect the joints, the heart and nervous system resulting in long-term illness. However, if treated early with the appropriate antibiotics, most people with Lyme disease will completely recover.
1. Risk in Saskatchewan
The risk for Lyme disease is very low in Saskatchewan, but not zero.
Most ticks (about 96 per cent) found in Saskatchewan are the American dog tick. This species is not capable of transmitting Lyme disease to people. Rocky Mountain wood ticks and the winter tick (or moose tick) are also found in Saskatchewan.
Since 2008, 36,247 ticks have been identified through voluntary submissions in Saskatchewan and 122 were blacklegged ticks. Of the 101 blacklegged ticks mailed in for testing, 13 tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Blacklegged ticks are most often found in southern British Columbia, southeastern and south-central Manitoba, southern, eastern and northwestern Ontario, southern Quebec, southern New Brunswick and Grand Manan Island, and Nova Scotia. Visit the Public Health Agency of Canada's website for detailed information about risk areas across Canada.
Blacklegged ticks are spreading to new areas in Canada due to climate change. Established populations of blacklegged ticks have not been identified in Saskatchewan, but the province contains large areas with suitable conditions to support the establishment of blacklegged tick populations. Infected ticks may also be dropped off by migrating birds. People may be exposed to blacklegged ticks in wooded areas as well as brushy, overgrown areas between woods and open spaces.
The adults are quite small (about the size of a sesame seed) and the immature stages are even smaller (the size of a freckle or a pinhead).
Ticks can transmit the bacteria regardless of what stage they are at in their life cycle. You may not know you have been bitten, since ticks are very small and their bites are usually painless. See below for precautions to take to prevent tick bites.
Ticks are active when the weather warms up (temperatures higher than 4°C). Blacklegged ticks remain active until freeze-up occurs. Since adult blacklegged ticks are active in the spring and fall months, and nymphs are found in the late spring and summer, the risk of being bitten by a tick can exist for the entire spring, summer and fall period.
Ticks are found in tall grass, brush and wooded areas throughout southern Saskatchewan.
When heading outdoors:
- Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts and close-toed shoes or boots.
- Pull socks over your pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.
- Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks can be seen easily.
- Use insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin. Apply repellent to exposed skin; always read and follow the directions on the label. The products should not be used on children under six months.
- Wear permethrin-treated clothing (always follow label directions).
- When hiking, stay on cleared paths or trails and avoid contact with tall grass and overgrown brush.
When returning from outdoors:
- Shower or bathe as soon as possible after being outside to wash off loose ticks.
- Do 'full body' tick checks as soon as possible after being outside on yourself, your children, and your pets. Some ticks are quite small (the size of a pinhead or freckle), so look carefully.
- To remove ticks from clothing, put your clothes in a hot dryer or hang them out in the sun on a hot day for at least 15 minutes. The heat can kill the ticks. Also check for ticks on any gear you had with you in the woods.
If you find a tick attached to your skin:
- Carefully remove it with fine-tipped tweezers and grasp the parts of the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull slowly upward and out with a firm steady pressure.
- Do not handle the tick with bare hands and be careful not to squeeze, crush or puncture the body after removal as this may also contain infectious fluids.
- Take a picture of the tick and submit it to eTick.ca for quick identification.
- Keep the tick in a secure container until you receive the identification results, as you may be asked to submit the tick - by mail - for further study. Ticks can be euthanized by placing them in a bag and storing them in a freezer for 24 hours.
Video Credit: Kateryn Rochon, University of Manitoba Entomology Department
Posted with permission of the University of Manitoba
3. Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Symptoms of Lyme disease vary and may develop days or weeks after a person is infected from a tick bite.
Early symptoms may include:
- An expanding skin rash that looks like a ‘bull's-eye’ may develop at the site of the tick bite in 70 to 80 percent of infected persons. Some people may not develop a rash.
- Fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue or swollen lymph nodes.
Later symptoms may include:
- More rashes, dizziness, abnormal heartbeat, arthritis, mental confusion or inability to think clearly (brain fog), nervous system disorders (involving the brain, nerves and spinal cord).
Getting a diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult as your symptoms may be similar to other illnesses. Inform your health care provider of any recent outdoor activities, travel outside of the province and whether you have developed a rash around a recent tick bite.
Prevention and early diagnosis of Lyme disease are important. Consult a health care provider as soon as possible if you are bitten by a tick and develop symptoms of Lyme disease. The earlier you receive a diagnosis and treatment, the better your chances to make a full recovery.
Your health care provider should:
- review your symptoms;
- find out if you were in an area at risk of having Lyme-infected blacklegged ticks;
- do a physical examination; and
- order laboratory blood tests to see if you have certain antibodies that could indicate you have the disease.
The Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory (RRPL) follows testing guidelines set out by the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network. The testing involves a two-step process that includes an initial screening blood test followed by confirmatory testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. This is considered to be the best diagnostic testing for Lyme disease, and needs to be used in conjunction with clinical information about the patient.
Positive test results from laboratories in the United States or Europe that do not use methods validated by organizations such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the International Organization for Standardization, should in general be confirmed through repeat testing through the RRPL. This ensures that Canadians are all diagnosed by laboratory tests according to recognized international standards.
Treatment is most successful in the early stages of the disease and involves a course of antibiotics, usually for two to three weeks. Some people may experience symptoms that last months to years after treatment. The cause of ongoing symptoms after treatment for Lyme disease is currently not clear. The term “Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” is often used to describe nonspecific symptoms that persist for months after treatment. For most patients, these symptoms improve gradually over six months to one year. There is currently no evidence that continued use of antibiotics improves symptoms.
Information on Lyme disease is also available on HealthLine Online by typing Lyme disease in the health topic search.
4. Submitting Ticks for Identification and Testing
You can submit photographs of ticks for identification on the web-based platform, eTick, by following these steps:
- Take a photograph of the tick using your smart phone or digital camera
- Submit the photograph using the eTick online system
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan will use the photographs to identify the tick.
Following confirmation, you will receive timely information about the tick.
Please keep your tick in a secure container until you receive identification of the tick. Researchers may ask you to submit ticks – by mail – for further study.
5. Surveillance Data
Ticks, human cases and blood samples tested in SaskatchewanSource: Public Health Agency of Canada and the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory
|Ticks (all species)||Blacklegged ticks||Blacklegged ticks
|2011||736||3||1||266||1 (possibly local/travel)||599|
|2017||5,112||15||4||2,025||4 (3 travel, 1 local)||1,639|
¹ Borrelia burgdorferi is the agent that causes Lyme disease.
² Based on the Public Health Agency of Canada Lyme disease case definition updated in 2016, includes confirmed and probable cases.
³ Testing increased by 50% per cent from 2009 to 2022.
4 In 2020, 7 out of 12 blacklegged ticks were mailed in for Borrelia burgdoferi testing. In 2021, 9 ticks were mailed in for testing.
5 In 2022, 7 out of 17 blacklegged ticks were mailed in for pathogen testing. One tick tested positive for Borrelia miyamotoi.
*Preliminary data for 2022