Ticks more widespread in Ottawa than initially thought

Ottawa's tick population is more widespread than University of Ottawa researchers originally believed it to be, with the critters now popping up near residential areas of the city.

1 out of 3 ticks tested in University of Ottawa study carry Lyme disease

Researchers from the University of Ottawa hunt for ticks at the Mer Bleue conservation area as they collect data for a three-year tick population study. (Robyn Miller)

Ottawa's tick population is more widespread than initially thought, with the critters popping up near residential areas of the city sooner than researchers at the University of Ottawa had been expecting.

A team of university scientists is currently in the second year of a three-year study measuring the distribution and density of black-legged ticks in Ottawa.

The researchers are also looking at the rates of ticks infected with the bacteria known to cause Lyme disease.

1 of 3 carry Lyme disease bacteria

Their results so far show that one in three ticks tested carry the harmful bacteria.

In May 2017 Ottawa Public Health deemed the city an at-risk area, with more than one in five ticks testing positive.

"So it's really important to take precautions when you're out walking on recreational trails, in wooded areas, particularly those areas with deciduous forests or where you might encounter some deer," said Manisha Kulkarni, an assistant professor with the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa's faculty of medicine.

This University of Ottawa map shows where tick populations are concentrated within the city's borders. (University of Ottawa)

Lower rates in city parks

Kulkarni is heading up the research and said the results have been surprising, with ticks showing up near residential areas and at sites along the Ottawa River. 

As the climate changes and tick populations expand northward, Kulkarni said it's likely Ottawa will see those ticks move into areas where they weren't seen before.

"By understanding some of the driving forces and factors, whether they be environmental or sociological, we can really get a better grasp on how to prevent and control disease," she said.

Ticks turning up in surprising areas, scientists say

5 years ago
Duration 0:45
A team of University of Ottawa scientists has found ticks, which can spread Lyme disease, are turning up near residential parts of Ottawa sooner than expected.

In 2017, her team monitored 23 sites across Ottawa, including municipal parks, conservation areas and forests, recreational trails and one provincial park within the city's borders.

Black-legged ticks were found in 16 of those sites.

The results also showed that recreational trails, conservation areas and forests and the provincial park had significantly higher tick densities than municipal parks.

1st coordinated effort to determine location

Up until 2017, the only data that provided a picture of where ticks were came from "passive reporting of ticks submitted to Ottawa Public Health for testing," according to a news release from the University of Ottawa.

Benoit Talbot has been out collecting samples and said he hopes the research will prevent the spread of Lyme disease by showing the public where they need to take precautions.

Talbot said it was surprising to see so many ticks in east Ottawa, as there's a hypothesis that ticks follow the flying paths of migratory birds.

"There is a flyway in the west of Ottawa, so I wasn't expecting to find as many in the east," he said.

Data collected from this season will be analyzed during the winter and published in summer 2019.