Silently they scurried. Up inside pant legs, down under shirt collars and behind ears.
The ticks kept coming, dozens and dozens of them, each driven by an unrelenting thirst for blood.
“Even now, I still touch my hair. I feel a little crawly thing on my skin — I’m still checking today. You still think they’re on you,” said Karis Penner, three days after a hike along the Mantario Trail with her husband and two friends.
The onslaught of tiny creepers got worse and worse as the group travelled north on the rugged trail last weekend. The Mantario is a 60-kilometre backcountry path that winds alongside the Ontario border in Whiteshell Provincial Park.
They landed on 400 as a fair estimate for the approximate number of ticks they encountered, said Penner, an avid hiker and paddler from St-Pierre-Jolys, Man.
“The ones that were actually stuck to our skin was way less just because we were checking so much, but off our clothing — I mean, easily 400 off our clothing,” she said.
Every 10 or 15 minutes, when the group would stop for water or a snack, they’d get to work brushing off ticks from their clothes and gear.
Typically, she said, they’d find about 20 ticks on each break. The bugs especially liked hiding in the seams of convertible pants (pants that can turn into shorts by removing the lower section of the leg).
They joked about putting them all in a Ziploc bag but no one wanted to the job of holding it.
On all her backcoutry trips, Penner has never seen ticks that bad.
“We were just overwhelmed. We were taking them off as much as we could,” she said. “After we washed in the evening and put clean clothes on, still they were on us.”
Risk of Lyme disease low
While everyone got bites, Penner isn’t too concerned about the risk of Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to humans by ticks. She said they checked each other for tick bites at least once a day and caught them before they latched for too long.
Earlier this month, a Lyme diease awareness group warned that this could be a bad year for ticks.
The mild winter temperatures gave mice and other small animals a chance to flourish, boosting the number of meals for ticks to feast on.
However, while there are more blood-suckers creeping around, they may not necessarily be the species of tick that carries Lyme.
Based on the province’s surveillance program, the vast majority of ticks collected in Manitoba are the common wood tick, a bug that does not carry Lyme, anaplasmosis or babesiosis, or any other problem disease, the province said.
Wood ticks, also known as the American dog tick, can be difficult to tell apart from problem deer ticks or blacklegged ticks, which can carry Lyme disease.
For that reason, Manitoba’s medical officer of health for communicable disease control, Dr. Richard Rusk, recommends that anyone active outdoors check themselves at least once a day for ticks and remove them as quickly as possible.
“If you can catch that tick within a few hours of it being on you, even if it’s bitten you … it hasn’t had the opportunity to get that bacteria regurgitated out and back into you,” he said.
“There’s good science to show that that works.”
In Manitoba, people can submit a photo of a tick online for Rusk’s office to review and determine if it is a blacklegged tick.
‘They’re strong little guys’
If you end up feeling any potential Lyme symptoms, like a rash or flu symptoms, it’s a good idea to mention to your doctor whether you had any recent tick bites, said Rusk.
In 2016, there were 62 cases of reported Lyme disease in Manitoba. Of those, 22 were confirmed, 28 were probably cases and 12 are still under investigation, according to data from Manitoba Health. Other tick-borne illnesses include 17 cases of reported anaplasmosis and one case of babesiosis in 2016.
As for Penner, she’s still battling the ticks, days after the trip ended.
Even after doing laundry, she’s still finding the critters in her home — on piles of laundry and even in a cupboard.
“They’re strong little guys. They’re hard to get rid of,” she said.
“You’ll check yourself and then you’ll look again 30 seconds later and there’s one on your stomach again. Like, I don’t understand where they come from.”
For May long weekend, she plans to do her camping in Ontario.