New tick species discovered in NB may result in increased risk of Lyme disease: professor

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New tick species discovered in NB may result in increase of Lyme disease for 2017: professor
WATCH: A Mount Allison University professor says the province may see an increase in the number of ticks and risk of contracting Lyme disease, in part to a new “hybrid” species she says she discovered. Global’s Shelley Steeves tells us more – Mar 21, 2017

One of the country’s top tick researchers at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. says a new species of tick and an expected surge in the number of ticks in the province this year may soon put more people at risk of contracting Lyme disease.

READ MORE: Doctors and vets say ticks are prolific

Vett Lloyd is a professor of biology and said she discovered the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in a new breed of tick born from a species moving into New Brunswick from the United States.

“The incoming ticks are breeding with with the local ticks and we’ve got a new type of tick and they are fertile and seem very well adapted to New Brunswick and they certainly do carry the bacteria,” said Lloyd.

Lloyd said the hybrid tick isn’t being tracked in other provinces yet, but both of the parental species are found throughout Canada. So it may be just a matter of time before the new breed carrying Lyme is able to spread across the country, she said.

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Lloyd also expects to see at least a 30 per cent increase in tick populations this year due to the mild fall and winter.

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“We got our first tick of the season back on Jan. 23 which is a month and a half earlier than usual,” said Lloyd. “A lot of the ticks that should have died haven’t.”

“That is very scary because that means they are overwintering better,” said Cathie Smith of Riverview, N.B.

Smith said she contracted lime disease 17 years ago from an infected tick and has been suffering with symptoms of pain, blurred vision and difficulty concentrating every since.

READ MORE: New Brunswickers with Lyme disease push for new treatment guidelines

“I am so afraid for the general public out in the gardens, out hiking, you know, biking, doing all the healthy things we should be doing,” Smith said.

According to a Health Canada report, the number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease has more than doubled in Canada since 2012, from 338 cases to the preliminary number for 2016 now sitting at 814 cases.

“The reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Lloyd, who says thousands of people across Canada are going undiagnosed. “The diagnosis for physicians are challenging because the symptoms are non-specific.”

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Health Canada is currently working on developing a federal framework on Lyme disease expected to be release in May. According to Health Canada’s communication officer, Rebecca Gilman, included in the report will be new guidelines on how to identify better and manage Lyme disease in Canada.

READ MORE: Climate change cited as probable factor for rising cases of Lyme disease in Canada

Until then, in New Brunswick where the tick population is on the rise, the NB Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said prevention is the key.

She also gave advice on what to do when venturing out into wooded and grassy areas: “Make sure you are wearing closed-toed shoes and long pants and make sure you are wearing insect repellent and for sure check yourself after you coming in from an activity.”

“If there is something that looks like a freckle with legs, remove it,” Lloyd said.

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