Nfld. & Labrador

Increased risk of Lyme disease as more ticks move to N.L.

There are more ticks coming into Newfoundland, 20 per cent of which are carriers of Lyme disease, says chief veterinary officer Hugh Whitney.
Once non-existent in Newfoundland, blacklegged ticks are on the rise in this province. (Radio-Canada)

The risk of ticks carrying Lyme disease is increasing in Newfoundland and Labrador, with more blacklegged ticks migrating north —and bringing with them a bacteria that causes the serious illness.

There are no permanent tick populations in Newfoundland and Labrador, but Hugh Whitney, the province's chief veterinary officer, says they are finding more and more of the parasites each year. 

Hugh Whitney, the province's chief veterinary officer, says it's important to submit all ticks to a veterinarian for Lyme disease testing. (CBC)

Whitney said that 20 per cent of the ticks that his lab test are Lyme disease carriers.

"Fifteen years ago, we'd only talk about southern Ontario for Lyme disease in Canada," Whitney told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. "It's considered to be a disease that is moving further north."

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia now have permanent populations of these ticks, and Prince Edward Island is warning this year of increased numbers.

Ticks have not always been a problem in Newfoundland. The first tick was found in the province in the early 2000s, and there are now around 30 to 40 ticks found in the province each year.

Whitney said the increase is due to warming global temperatures and white deer populations expanding into the northeast United States.

Songbirds a reason for migration

One of the main way ticks enter the province is through songbirds that are migrating north.

When the birds come to land, the ticks fall off and look for another host -- oftentimes a dog. Dogs that have been outside of the province can also bring ticks back on their bodies.

"Wherever these dogs are they may pick up a tick when they're in the woods and only find out when they come back," said Whitney.

He said they have found a number of exotic ticks in Newfoundland, including one from Europe.

Whitney urges people to check their animals and themselves regularly, particularly if they have been walking in tall grass or shrubbery. If a tick is found, it should be submitted for testing at a laboratory in St. John's. 

Ticks are most commonly found in hidden places like the back of the neck, or exposed areas such as the lower legs. They can be extremely small, ranging from the size of a pea to the size of a poppy seed, and their bites are usually painless.


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