Mount Allison study shows infected ticks, Lyme disease risk on the rise in New Brunswick

Tribune-Post Staff
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May is national Lyme Disease Awareness Month

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Over the past few years, researchers in Mount Allison University biology professor Vett Lloyd’s lab have teamed up with veterinarians across New Brunswick to get a better idea of ticks and tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease in this region. What they’ve found is concerning.

Infected ticks are growing in numbers across the province, increasing the risk of Lyme disease for both dogs and humans.

“Our lab’s preliminary work shows a high percentage of Borrelia-infected ticks (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) throughout New Brunswick. Borrelia is commonly transmitted to both dogs and humans through tick bites,” says Lloyd. “As our climate moderates, the habitat of these ticks is expanding northwards, increasing the risk to human and animal health in Canada.”

Lloyd and her team, partnering with Dr. Gina Bradet in the Tantramar Veterinary Hospital, began testing for Lyme disease in dogs in 2013 through simple blood tests. Since dogs usually live in close contact with humans, these tests are seen as a starting point to monitor infection risks in New Brunswick communities. The infection rates in dogs can be used to predict human infection rates as previous studies have found that for every six infected dogs, there is one human that is also infected.

 The lab collected approximately 300 blood samples from dogs in seven health districts across the province in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014 tick seasons.

Results showed that infection rates had risen to seven per cent in the fall of 2013, when three years ago, fewer than one per cent of New Brunswick dogs were infected.

The study found the highest rates of infection in the Moncton region with a 17 per cent infection rate. The Saint John region, which includes the two known endemic tick populations, had the second highest infection rate of 10 per cent.

While infection rates were found to be higher in the southern part of the province, Lyme seropositive dogs are found as far north as the Edmunston area. These infection rates parallel regional tick infection rates documented by Lloyd’s lab over the past two years.

 “These preliminary results demonstrate that ticks, and Lyme disease, are prevalent in New Brunswick and people and their pets are at risk,” says Lloyd.

“We want to work to get a clearer picture but also raise awareness so people can take necessary measures to prevent new infections and treat existing cases in pets, wildlife, and humans.”

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia bacteria. This bacterium is usually transmitted by a tick bite in which the disease causing bacteria is injected into the bloodstream.

While early infection can be treated with antibiotics, if left untreated, infection can result in a wide array of symptoms. While most dogs can resolve the infection without treatment, it can cause serious, even fatal, symptoms for some dogs. Lyme disease in humans causes debilitating symptoms if left untreated and is emerging as a serious health problem across Canada. 

Lloyd and her research team, including several Mount Allison University students, will continue their work this summer. They continue to receive ticks for testing in the lab and will be testing approximately 300 to 400 dogs at various veterinary clinics this summer as well.

Organizations: Mount Allison University, Tantramar Veterinary Hospital

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Canada, Moncton Saint John

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