City starts tick dragging in parks

Ottawa Public Health started tick dragging in city parks on Wednesday in order to test the bugs they catch for Lyme disease.

First day of tick dragging program sees six caught in western parts of the city

Stephen Cloake drags for ticks at the Rockcliffe Park dog park. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

Ottawa Public Health started tick dragging in city parks on Wednesday in order to test the bugs they catch for Lyme disease.

Large squares of fleecy cloth are taped to a pole and then brushed over grass and wooded areas. 

"The ticks will actually cling to the cloth as we drag it over the grass," said Kristen MacNeil, a public health inspector who volunteers with the Lyme disease monitoring and surveillance program. 

Tick dragging has been going on since 2014 and will happen two or three more times before October.

Kristen MacNeil says she didn't find any ticks on her first day dragging. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

MacNeil is keen to help the city track the prevalence of Lyme disease. But during dragging in the Rockcliffe Park dog park off Hillsdale Road she didn't find any ticks herself.

"It's a little disappointing from a personal standpoint because it is interesting to find them and have them tested. But it is really great that we didn't find any in the park here because hopefully that means there aren't many — or any — in the area."

The city also dragged in Stittsville and Carp on Wednesday where they found six ticks.

Ottawa at-risk area for Lyme

Ottawa Public Health determined this year that Ottawa is now an at-risk area for Lyme disease, with more than one in five ticks testing positive for the disease.

But some researchers say that figure is much higher.

Ottawa's Medical Office of Health, Dr. Isra Levy, says the percentage of ticks infected does not matter from a public health point of view.

"It doesn't really matter if it's 20 or 30 or 75 [per cent infected]," Levy said. "The advice that we provide to the community is the same advice, which is try to avoid tick bites".

It also triggered advice to doctors that they automatically treat patients with ticks attached on their bodies for longer than 24 hours with antibiotics. If ticks are attached less than 24 hours, antibiotics are not recommended, but patients should monitor the tick bite site for signs of an expanding red rash and other symptoms of Lyme disease.

Levy says Ottawa is set for a "large number" of Lyme disease cases this year. 

"If you look at the trend over the last several years, we've really gone up from about five a year five or six years ago, to as many as 75 a year last year," said Levy. 

Levy says some of that increase is due to greater public awareness as more people report tick bites and get checked for Lyme.

Public health inspector Kristen MacNeil checks for ticks after dragging an Ottawa-area dog park. (Roger Dubois/CBC)