Nova Scotia

Mild autumn means ticks still a threat in the woods

A Nova Scotia zoologist says there been an increase in tick reports as the mild fall weather persists.

Nova Scotians warned to be vigilant checking for ticks as reports rise

A deer tick, also called the black-legged tick, can carry Lyme disease. (CDC/Reuters)

It may be late fall but it's still tick season in Nova Scotia.

Andrew Hebda, the zoology curator at the Nova Scotia Museum, said reports of ticks are up as the mild weather persists and people continue to head into the woods for recreation.

The museum, he said, has had more tick referrals in October and November than in June and July.

"Most of the referrals have been from in and around the Sydney area, but we've had them from right across, from all the counties," he said.

Black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, can carry Lyme disease. They have become well-established in some parts of Nova Scotia. More adult ticks are being reported in Cape Breton, Hebda said, but there is still no indication they are established there.

"We haven't seen any larvae, and we haven't seen any nymphs, so in that point of view we are not sure whether these are established populations now or whether these are ones that have just been brought in," he said.

Vigilance urged

Hebda said as long as the mild weather lasts, people need to be vigilant about removing ticks before they become engorged.

"The difficulty that we have is that roughly about half of the ticks that we have now have been fed and in some cases virtually totally fed," he said. "I think what's happened is people have let their guards down a little bit and perhaps not doing as diligently tick check."

Even with an increase of tick reports in Cape Breton, health officials say the island is still considered low risk for Lyme.

But across the country, more people are contracting Lyme disease and the weather is considered a factor. Earlier this year, a national conference on Lyme disease in Ottawa heard from then-federal health minister Jane Philpott.

"As climates change across the country, that is certainly one of the major factors why we believe that it has spread in recent years,'' she said.

In May, she announced $4 million would be spent to develop a Lyme disease research network aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment.

Health Canada said there were 987 reported cases of Lyme disease country-wide in 2016. Five years earlier, there were only 266 cases.

With files from Norma Jean MacPhee, Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith