Ottawa researcher says 1 in 3 ticks carrying Lyme disease in city's west end

An Ottawa researcher is trying to figure out why the west end of our city is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease.  Epidemiologist Dr. Manisha Kulkarni says her research shows that at least one in every three ticks is carrying the bacteria that can cause a chronic and debilitating illness. The research so far shows about 30 to 40 percent of those west end ticks are testing positive for Lyme disease but Dr. Kulkarni believes it could be higher than that.

Brown bagging it has a whole new meaning at this University of Ottawa lab.

“So these are the samples that have come in from Ottawa Public Health,” says Dr. Kulkarni, as she opens a fridge in her uOttawa lab. 

“This is a weeks' worth, so we're probably looking at about 15 ticks per week,” she explains. 

They are ticks sent to Ottawa Public Health from members of the public, taken off themselves or their children.  They end up in Dr. Kulkarni’s lab for testing.

This year she says, there are far more ticks submitted than last year and many more testing positive for Lyme disease, especially those from Kanata, Carp and Stittsville. 

“We’re seeing a higher proportion of ticks from certain parts of west end,” she says, “more than 30 to 40% are positive in some areas.”

Dr. Kulkarni’s research project, funded in part by the Public health Agency of Canada, is trying to figure out why recreational trails, provincial and municipal parks in the west end are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of ticks. The thinking is that it is connected to a growing problem south of us, a problem creeping up a wooded corridor in the Kingston area that has a long-established tick problem.

“It does seem to be a corridor coming up from St. Lawrence Valley,” she says, “There's a wooded corridor that seems to really prone to tick populations.”

Dr. Kulkarni's students are monitoring that population in the Ottawa area by dragging for ticks in 19 parks and recreational paths across this city.  Charles Thickstun, who is a Masters students in Epidemiology says he and his two colleagues found no ticks today at the Rideau River Eastern Pathway park in Ottawa's north east end but,

“The Greenbelt pathway, Stony Swamp and down Smiths Falls by Murphy Point,” he says, “We found quite a few there.”

That's no surprise to Lesley Fleming.  She has Lyme disease and a keen interest in where those Lyme-carrying ticks are.  She dragged for ticks at the NCC recreational pathway behind the DND building off Moodie Drive a few weeks ago.  Of the two ticks she found, both tested positive for Lyme disease. The path is popular with both DND employees and dog walkers.

“I used to bring my dog here,” Fleming says, “and a year and a half ago; we found 7 ticks on her so I’ve never been back.”

She also dragged for ticks at a popular bird-watching spot in Shirley’s Bay.  One of the three ticks collected tested positive for Lyme.  Now, alongside the no-smoking and poison ivy signs, she's pushing for signage to warn of ticks.

“The warning signs need to say there are ticks present that carry a high percentage of Lyme disease,” Fleming says, “with references to prevention material where people can find out how to take precautions

Ottawa Public Health says with the wet weather, it has yet to begin dragging for ticks but plans to start June 28th in Carp, Stittsville and Rockcliffe Park.  Later this summer, it will do tick drags in all areas of the city including east and south ends. OPH says to date, 88 ticks from the Ottawa area have been submitted and 17 or 19.3% have tested positive for Lyme disease.