Tracking ticks: P.E.I. vet clinics collecting ticks for Lyme disease study
'It would be nice to know where the ticks are'
P.E.I. veterinary clinics are collecting ticks as part of a research study by a graduate student at Mount Allison University.
"If you're going to your vet and you have a tick on your dog or your cat or you or your floor or your horse, they'll have a form to fill out and they'll send it to me," said Alexandra Foley-Eby, a second year Masters student at Mount Allison.
"I test them, see whether they have the bacteria in them and then give the information back to them via their vets."
Foley-Eby is working with 11 vet clinics across P.E.I. The cost to test the tick is covered by the study, though a vet clinic may charge a fee if they have to remove the tick.
Along with ticks, she's also collecting blood samples from healthy dogs.
"My study is looking at whether we can use dogs on Prince Edward Island as an indicator species for human risk," explained Foley-Eby.
"I look at blood samples from dogs on P.E.I. and then I look to see whether or not those dogs have been exposed to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease."
The idea is that she will be able to measure the spread of the disease on P.E.I., both in animals and in humans.
"Then once I have the number of dogs, I hope to be able to estimate the number of human cases that we would expect to see and compare that to the number that are reported on the Island," said Foley-Eby.
She started collecting ticks in September 2016 and is hoping to continue until the end of 2017.
So far, she has collected 200 ticks and 110 serum or blood samples. Of the ticks, 6.3 per cent have carried the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.
Foley-Eby believes the study will benefit "everyone in the loop" around Lyme disease, including the dogs, which can be monitored and treated if they test positive.
"I've had vets tell me that they've had people come up to them and say we don't have ticks here, we don't have Lyme here, I don't think it's worth my money to buy prevention for my dog," she said.
"They can say to people now, well actually x number of ticks that we've sent off have come back positive so you might want to think about it."
High risk areas
The Montague and Souris Veterinary Clinics are taking part in the study.
"If she can help us categorize what kind of ticks and where they are," said Dr. Edward MacAulay, veterinarian and owner of the two clinics.
"It would be nice to know where the ticks are so we could help people identify if they're in a higher risk area or a lower risk area."
MacAulay has advice for P.E.I. pet owners when it comes to ticks and Lyme disease.
"There's a range of different medicines that help repel ticks, there's some that kill ticks if they attach, and there's vaccinations against Lyme disease."
"Ticks could be carriers of other diseases as well, just not as common on P.E.I. "
Ticks year round
Dr. Tara McCarthy, at the Southport Animal Hospital in Stratford, P.E.I. has submitted 40 ticks so far.
"Ticks are definitely growing every year, we're seeing more and more and it used to be, we'd just see them certain times of the year, more spring and fall, now we're seeing them all year round," said McCarthy.
She has diagnosed a couple of cases of Lyme disease in her patients over the last year.
"One was able, we caught it earlier, in the disease and was fine and one unfortunately did succumb to the disease," she said.
McCarthy also recommends daily tick checks on dogs.
In a statement from the Chief Public Health Office, Lyme disease is identified as a "notifiable disease" in P.E.I. under the Public Health Act.
In 2012, P.E.I. had its first case of lab-confirmed Lyme disease not connected to travel outside P.E.I.
In 2016, there were four cases of Lyme disease, one lab confirmed and three probable, all associated with travel to Lyme disease risk areas.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries does not have statistics of Lyme disease in animals because it is not a reportable disease under the Animal Health Act.
There is a website operated by IDDEX, a manufacturer of veterinary test kits, that has gathered some information on Lyme disease in dogs across the Canadian provinces.
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