Tick population on the rise in New Brunswick

Mount A researcher says warmer winters to blame

Published on April 18, 2017

This tick, viewed through a microscope, is one of several being studied by Mount Allison University researcher Vett Lloyd. – DYLAN CUNNINGHAM PHOTO

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Another spring has brought another surge in the population of disease-carrying ticks that want nothing more than to burrow into your skin and feed off you for up to a week.

That might sound dramatic, but it’s the reality of living in a province with a rising tick population. According to Mount Allison tick expert Vett Lloyd, rising winter temperatures are to blame. Originally, ticks would come into the province on the bodies of migrating birds, and die off in the winter.

When they bite you they inject an anaesthetic . They don’t want you getting itchy.

Vett Lloyd

“Now they’re not being killed, and boy ticks are finding girl ticks and they’re having lovely tick romances,” she says. “A female tick can produce a good 2,000 to 5,000 eggs – it doesn’t take a lot before we have a tick problem.”

Mount Allison researcher Vett Lloyd

That tick problem means more than just bites. Lloyd says last year’s study of over 200 ticks turned up a 20 per cent infection rate of Lyme disease. Both humans and animals can become infected by the bacteria ticks carry in their saliva. While not everyone who is exposed to the disease will become sick, those who do may experience serious, life-threatening complications.

Lloyd says it’s difficult to protect yourself from the “stealthy” tactics ticks use to hunt their prey.

“You don’t feel a tick, that’s the problem,” she says. “When they bite you they inject an anaesthetic . They don’t want you getting itchy.”

Since a person can’t feel the ticks latching on, Lloyd says it’s important to check your body for potential passengers after venturing into their prime hunting grounds. These include wooded areas or places with long grass.

“Have a look at yourself, and if you see a little dark spot, particularly one that has little legs on it, remove it,” she says and advises that ticks tend to prefer the “warm, dark places of your body.”

Long boots, or tucking your pant legs into your socks can also help prevent bites. Light clothing may help make ticks more visible if they’re crawling on you but does not deter them.

Ticks can be removed with tweezers, or with a ‘tick removal kit’ found at some stores. When removing one, Lloyd notes it’s important to ensure the head of the insect doesn’t remain embedded in your skin afterwards. She does not suggest the “old-fashioned” approaches of burning it off or putting Vaseline over it.

Once the tick is removed, it can be taken to a hospital or public health centre. If in Sackville, Lloyd welcomes delivery of samples to her at the university.