'Trojan horse': Veterinarian sees tick-borne diseases entering N.B. under radar
Dogs brought across the border are infected with bacteria that's not native to New Brunswick
Dogs coming into New Brunswick from the U.S. are carrying diseases that can infect humans through tick bites, just as Lymne disease does, says a veterinarian who heads the animal welfare committee of New Brunswick vets.
Anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Ehrlichia are not native to New Brunswick, but the province has the conditions needed to make it a breeding ground for the bacteria, said Mary-Ellen Themens, whose committee is part of the New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association, the group that regulates the profession.
"Naturally, if we're importing the disease, it's going to accelerate the problem," Themens said.
The three diseases are rampant in parts of the southern United States and Cuba, and now all three have been found on the East Coast in dogs that crossed the border, some brought in illegally and others infected without their owners' knowledge, she said.
"I have a file in front of me of a dog imported in February 2017 from Cuba," she wrote in an email. "It tested positive for Ehrlichia."
Anaplasmosis is spread to humans through the same tick as Lyme disease. In humans, it can cause vague symptoms such as fever, muscle pain and chills.
"It can be a serious illness if not treated properly, and the fatality rate is less than one per cent, but not zero, in people," Themens said.
Babesiosis, carried by the same blacklegged tick, destroys red blood cells, she said.
And Ehrlichia, which can cause serious illness, is transmitted to humans by a tick not normally found in New Brunswick.
Birds also bring in ticks
The tick recently landed in the province, however, apparently coming in on migratory birds.
"The fatality rate is estimated at 1.8 per cent," Themens said of Ehrlichia.
Rabies is the only federal reportable disease in domestic dogs that is regulated at the border and in Canada, Rod Lister, media relations for Canadian Food Inspection Agency, wrote in an email.
"Either the province of New Brunswick or municipal governments may regulate the (other) diseases," he said.
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But the risks posed by these tick-borne diseases are not on most people's radar, said Themens, meaning no additional laws regulating them exist.
What's also worrying, she said, is that parts of the province can sustain the ticks and the illnesses through the winter.
"And, again, these are not diseases we are currently looking for," she said. "These are things we don't normally see."
"They can be fatal."
The public health department has not had any reports of people getting anaplasmosis or babesiosis, said spokesperson Paul Bradley.
Public health does tests
According to Dr. Jennifer Russell, acting chief medical officer of Health, blacklegged ticks in the province are tested for Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis and human babesiosis.
No human cases have been recorded in New Brunswick, but all of these diseases are reportable to public health and are being monitored.
"Further, dogs may develop lameness and other clinical signs if infected with (Lyme disease)," Russell said in a statement. "Blacklegged ticks can transmit the bacteria to dogs. Animal owners should consult with their veterinarian about the many tick prevention products that are available."
For now, Themens just hopes people start taking the idea of checking any incoming shelter dogs, either before or directly after entering the province, seriously.
Ideally, before it's too late.
"It's like a Trojan horse," she said. "You're bringing in the problem."