Ottawa sees alarming increase in ticks as Lyme disease cases rise across Canada
A new study has found one out of three ticks tested positive for Lyme disease in the nation’s capital.
Ottawa resident Kristy Giles was bedridden after contracting the disease and is now careful to stick to the trails when she walks her dog in the woods. Giles picked off seven ticks from her body in one night after hiking between Kingston and Ottawa a few years ago.
“It took me from being a very active and career oriented person to being bedridden for a long time,” she says.
New data examining 23 sites across the city show the tick population dramatically rising, along with Lyme disease. Epidemiologist Dr. Manisha Kulkarni from the University of Ottawa said the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease was just under 30 per cent or one in three ticks.
Kulkarni helped conduct the study, dragging for ticks in parks and trails, and the worst areas were found to be in the woods along the Ottawa River and western Greenbelt.
“It’s a good indication for us that ticks are widespread across the city and so people should be aware when entering woodland along the Greenbelt and Ottawa River that ticks can be in our environment and to take precautions to avoid tick bites,” she said.
Lesley Fleming, who advocates for people with Lyme disease, says health officials need to step up prevention efforts and their messaging.
“Ottawa public health, the city of Ottawa and National Capital Commission have a responsibility to take results of the study and relook at information they have and revamp it.”
The illness has a long list of painful symptoms including facial paralysis and heart palpitations. According to The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, the disease is present in most of Canada, although Lyme infection is more common in rural areas.
The greatest risk of acquiring Lyme disease occurs where populations of ticks that carry the bacteria, B. burgdorferi, have become established.
Surveillance in recent years indicates that populations of blacklegged ticks are spreading in eastern and central Canada.
In British Columbia, the province’s ministry of health has reported a plateau in the number of infected tick populations in the past decade. This contrasts to the spread seen in the rest of Canada.
The Canadian government has identified risk areas across the country, including Winnipeg, parts of Vancouver, areas in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and all of Nova Scotia.
Areas at risk for Lyme disease in B.C. are Vancouver Island, the Southern Mainland, the coast of B.C facing Vancouver Island and river valleys across the southern part of the province.
Giles believes the onus is on the public to make sure people are armed with the information they need to protect themselves.
“We all want to get outside, we all want to be active and enjoy nature but we all need to be taking this a lot more seriously if we want to do this well.”
The Canadian Government has recorded a steady increase in cases of Lyme disease every year since 2010, where there were just 143 cases. Last year 2,025 cases were recorded, more than doubling the 2016 figure of 992.