In addition to Lyme disease, widely publicized in recent years, a new infection transmitted by ticks is taking hold in Quebec: anaplasmosis. A study by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the University of Sherbrooke published on Sunday identified 25 cases of this infection last summer, the largest cluster of cases observed so far in Canada. The situation could happen again this year, says Dr. Alex Carignan, holder of the Hospital-Faculty Research Chair in Lyme Disease and Emerging Infections at the University of Sherbrooke and co-author of the study.
Human anaplasmosis is a bacterial infection transmitted by the blacklegged tick, also responsible for Lyme disease. The symptoms of this infection are mainly fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches. “It can look like flu-like or COVID-19 symptoms, so people who live in Estrie and Montérégie and who suddenly start having a fever in the middle of summer should think about this possibility,” says Dr. Carignan. In recent years, cases of anaplasmosis had been identified in the northeastern United States. “So we suspected it was coming to Quebec,” says the doctor. Climate change is a major culprit for his arrival in the province, he says.
Many people infected with anaplasmosis or Lyme disease have reported contracting it directly in their backyard. “It debunks the myth that tick-borne infections are usually acquired in tall grass or in the forest,” says Dr. Carignan. Although the tick is found everywhere in Quebec, the risk of acquiring Lyme disease is much higher in Montérégie and Estrie, according to information compiled by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec. Same story for anaplasmosis, whose cases were concentrated around the city of Bromont.
First, we must not give in to panic, says Jade Savage, professor of entomology at Bishop’s University. To start, you have to remove the critter with pliers by pulling. You must avoid turning, to reduce the risk of tearing off the tick’s head, which could cause a transfer of bacteria, specifies the specialist. “Once it’s removed, you can clean the skin with a bit of alcohol,” she adds. Then, citizens are invited to take a photo of the tick and upload it to etick.ca. “Within one business day, someone will identify their species and tell you about potential illnesses and what to do,” says Savage. The tick stayed on you for only a few hours? Rest assured. “For the Lyme bacteria to be transmitted from ticks to humans, it usually has to stay attached to our skin for more than 24 hours,” says the specialist.
Several measures can be taken to reduce the risk of being infected by a tick. “In areas where ticks are more common, tucking your pants into your stockings is a great start,” says Savage. Wearing light-colored clothes also makes it easier to see ticks, she adds. Finally, after a day outdoors, it is suggested to get into the habit of examining yourself thoroughly after undressing, says Dr. Carignan. “You have to look at the armpits, down the neck, behind the ears, knees and groins,” he says.