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Lyme Disease In Alberta
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by ticks. People and their pets can get Lyme disease if they are bitten by an infected tick. There are two types of ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacteria in Canada:
Black legged tick (Deer tick, Ixodes scapularis). They spread the disease in the eastern and south-central areas of Canada.
Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). They spread the disease along the Pacific coast, mostly in southern British Columbia.Dogs, cats, and horses can become infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Animals can't pass the illness to humans, but when animals and humans are in the same environment they are both at risk of being bitten by an infected tick.
Not all animals or people who have been bitten by a tick will contract Lyme disease. It is thought to take 36-48 hours before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, so getting a tick removed as quickly as possible is very important.
Lyme Disease in Alberta
In Alberta, the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick) is the primary carrier of Lyme disease. These ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas or areas with tall grasses, and they are most active in the spring and summer. It is important to note that not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but it is best to take precautions to avoid tick bites regardless.
According to Alberta Health, between 1991 and 2021, there were 149 human cases of Lyme disease reported to the Ministry of Health. All cases reported were acquired while traveling outside of the province. Given the human and animal health risks, there’s a surveillance program in place to monitor the spread of the disease, and successful surveillance requires a vigilant public to check for ticks and signs of infection.
The most common tick found in Alberta is the Dermacentor tick which does not carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The first symptom of Lyme disease in dogs is typically a large, circular red rash around the bite area. Infections of the skin, joints, muscles, heart and nervous system can follow unless treated. Not all animals or people who have been bitten by a tick will contract Lyme disease. It is thought to take 36-48 hours before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, so it’s important to remove a tick as quickly as possible.
Always check your pets and yourself for ticks after walks or when bringing them in from outside. Ticks are often too small to see when they first get on your pet, prior to being engorged with blood, so inspect carefully. A comb can be used to help spot ticks that may have attached to your pet. The sooner these ticks are discovered, the less chance they have of transmitting harmful bacteria.
Do Dogs Carry Lyme Disease?
Yes, dogs can also become infected with Lyme disease. However, unlike humans, dogs may not show symptoms of the infection. Dogs can be treated with antibiotics if they become infected, and there are also vaccines available to help prevent Lyme disease in dogs. If you have a dog that spends time outdoors in areas where ticks are common, it is important to talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention and treatment options.
If You Find a Tick
Using tweezers, gently grasp its head and mouth parts as close to the skin as possible.
Without squeezing the tick, slowly pull the tick straight up off the skin — do not jerk or twist it.
Do not apply matches, cigarettes or petroleum jelly to the tick.
Once the tick has been removed, clean the bite area with soap and water and disinfect the area with an antiseptic. Wash hands with soap and water.
Save the tick in a clean, empty container. Do not add any ventilation holes to the container that is being used to put the tick(s) in. You can put more than one tick in the container if they are found on the same person or animal in the same general area in the environment.
Add a small piece of tissue or cotton ball, lightly moistened with water, into the container to prevent the tick(s) from drying out.
Tick Surveillance and Testing
Tick surveillance is crucial to tracking the spread of tick-borne diseases, and it allows the government to inform us of outbreaks and high-risk areas. If you are uncomfortable or unable to remove the tick yourself, contact your veterinarian for removal, though the earlier a tick is removed the less chance it has to cause infection.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends the following measures to prevent Lyme disease:
Cover up: Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants when spending time outdoors in areas where ticks are present.
Use insect repellent: Use insect repellent that contains DEET or icaridin, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe use.
Perform tick checks: Check yourself and your children for ticks after spending time outdoors, and remove any ticks promptly.
Remove ticks properly: Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out with steady, even pressure.
Watch for symptoms: If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick, seek medical attention right away.
Ticks are typically found from April through October in Alberta.
If you find a tick on your pet, yourself, someone else, or anywhere outside, Alberta Health asks you to submit it for testing as part of a tick surveillance program.
It’s always best to consult with your veterinarian about any questions you may have about Lyme disease or if your pet encounters a tick. They have up-to-the-minute information on the best methods needed to help keep you and your pet protected.
Who Is the ABVMA?
The ABVMA is the professional regulatory organization governing the practice of veterinary medicine in Alberta under the authority of the Veterinary Profession Act. As a self-governing profession, the ABVMA performs its regulatory and professional enhancement functions in accordance with the law and in a manner responsible to the public of Alberta. Providing leadership in animal health and welfare is a core objective of the ABVMA.