The number of ticks infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is growing throughout New Brunswick, says a new study out of Mount Allison University in Sackville.

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A research team headed by biology professor Vett Lloyd of Mount Allison University says the number of ticks carrying the bacterica that causes Lyme disease are growing in number and spreading throughout New Brunswick. (Tori Weldon / CBC)

Researchers in the lab of biology professor Vett Lloyd have teamed up with veterinarians across New Brunswick to get a better idea of ticks and tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease, in the region.

"Our lab's preliminary work shows a high percentage of Borrelia-infected ticks throughout New Brunswick," said Lloyd, referring to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease when it is transmitted to dogs and humans through tick bites.

"As our climate moderates, the habitat of these ticks is expanding northwards, increasing the risk to human and animal health in Canada."

Researchers collected 344 blood samples from dogs in seven health districts across the province in the fall 2013 and spring 2014 tick seasons. Results showed that infection rates had risen to seven per cent in the fall of 2013, compared to an infection rate of below one per cent three years earlier.

The highest infection rate was in the Moncton area at 17 per cent. The Saint John region, which includes two known endemic tick populations, had the second highest infection rate at 10 per cent. And four to six per cent in the Fredericton area.

Infection rates were highest in the south of the province, although some dogs as far north as the Edmundston area tested positive.

Previous studies have shown that for every six dogs infected with Lyme disease, there is one person in the area with the disease, say the researchers.

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Lyme disease is transmitted to humans and dogs when the Borrelia bacteria is injected into the bloodstream through tick bites. (Tori Weldon / CBC)

“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 the Borrelia bacteria when it is injected into the bloodstream of a human or a dog, usually by a tick bite.

Early infection can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated it can result in a wide array of symptoms.

Lyme disease in humans causes debilitating symptoms if left untreated. Most dogs can resolve the infection without treatment, but it can cause serious symptoms for some dogs, or even cause death.

Lloyd's research team plans to test another 300 to 400 dogs at various veterinary clinics this summer.