Nova Scotia

Lyme infection rate is 40 per cent in blacklegged ticks in parts of N.S., says researcher

With the temperature rising, tick season is at its peak. The rate of Lyme disease infection in blacklegged ticks in large parts of Nova Scotia is 40 per cent, according to a Mount Allison research lab.

Veterinarian says dogs are testing positive for Lyme disease earlier in the season

graph showing ticks
The University of Rhode Island's field guide to ticks includes these blacklegged ticks, which can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. (University of Rhode Island)

Checking yourself for ticks is just part of the summer routine in the region now, says a Maritime researcher.

With the temperature rising, tick season is at its peak. 

The rate of Lyme disease infection in blacklegged ticks in large parts of Nova Scotia is 40 per cent. Areas around Lunenburg, Yarmouth and New Glasgow are of particular concern.

The information comes from the Lloyd Tick Lab at Mount Allison University in Sackville N.B., which researches and tests ticks for Lyme disease across Canada. 

People are likely to encounter two types of ticks in Nova Scotia, says Vett Lloyd of the research centre — the American dog tick, also known as the wood tick, which is often harmless, and the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. 

Vett Lloyd tests and researches ticks from across Canada at the Lloyd Tick Lab located at Mount Allison University. (Lloyd Tick Lab)

"That's the bad kind," said Lloyd.

Lloyd said ticks are around for the entire year, but there are peaks in spring and fall. The region is in the midst of the spring peak.

"People are going out and we're being flooded with ticks," said Lloyd, adding that ticks increased in Canada by 150 per cent between 2020 and 2021. They are expanding northward due to climate change and other factors. 

Lloyd said safety measures include bug spray and tick checks. Nova Scotia pharmacists are also able to prescribe preventive treatment.

"This morning I got a picture saying, 'Oh, we thought it was a skin tag, but no, it's got legs.' Wasn't the skin tick. It's an engorged tick and it's been feeding for a good week," Lloyd said.

Lloyd says Nova Scotia and Ontario rank the highest for ticks in Canada. "Nova Scotia is the worst because we have lots of ticks and fewer people than southern Ontario."

Lyme-positive dogs showing up earlier in the year

Dr. Jeff Goodall, the owner and a veterinarian at Sunnyview Animal Care in Bedford, said his clinic is seeing dogs testing positive for Lyme disease earlier in the season.

He said the clinic checks if dogs have been exposed to any tick-borne diseases when they come in for lameness. 

"A little too many, probably three to four a week in our practice, are showing up Lyme-disease positive," said Goodall.

"The telling nature of the situation is if we put the dog on just antibiotics and they get their lameness resolved, we know that that lameness was due to Lyme disease."

Goodall said a fair number of dogs that are showing up positive for Lyme disease have not been receiving a tick prevention treatment. He said ticks transmit diseases other than Lyme, such as anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.

A map of Nova Scotia on the eTick app in May 2022 shows areas where ticks were reported. (eTick)

He said the two general ways to protect dogs are oral and topical medication.

What to do if you find a tick

Lloyd has advice for anyone finding a tick during a routine check. Safely removing the tick by gently pulling it out is the first step.

"Put them in a Ziploc bag, put them in the freezer in case you get sick. And if you are not comfortable with the idea of hanging around and waiting to see if you get sick, you can now send it in and get it tested," Lloyd said.

"The point of getting it tested is to find out, first of all, does it have Lyme disease? Because if it doesn't have Lyme disease, you don't need to worry. And if it does, you may need more than a single dose of antibiotics."

Lloyd said it's important to identify a tick when it is found on your body — eTick allows users to submit photos of a tick to be identified. A public map on the website also shows user-submitted data of the geographical location of the ticks. 

Lloyd said ticks want to feed for between three and seven days and hide in a place that will easily go unnoticed. 

"They're looking for hot and moist and if you think about them getting on your ankles, they're going to crawl up your legs and I think you can probably see where I'm going there," said Lloyd.

"You want to look at the groin area. Any cracks and crevices in the skin. Armpits, necks, ears, hairline … particularly kids because they're shorter. You definitely want to be checking the top of the body because they crawl upwards."

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