A warning from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) suggests three ticks collected in British Columbia since June have tested positive for new Lyme-related bacteria.
The BCCDC says the bacteria are closely related to Borrelia mayonii or B. mayonii, a newly-discovered species of bacteria that can cause Lyme disease in people.
Until now, it had only been confirmed in the Midwestern United States. The BCCDC says the species of bacteria discovered in the three B.C. tick samples is slightly different from the one discovered in the United States, and there is no evidence that anyone in B.C. has developed Lyme disease from the B. mayonii-like bacteria.
The centre calls it a “rare discovery” and says that while further investigation is warranted, the health threat posed by this new species of bacteria is extremely low.
The timeline of infected ticks
The first infected tick was removed from a dog in June 2016 that had been camping with its owner in the Lower Mainland. While the tick was positive for the new bacteria, the dog remains well and has no signs or symptoms of Lyme disease.
The second infected tick was removed from a child in July 2016. The child is believed to have been bitten in the Central Interior of B.C. The child also remains well and has had no signs or symptoms of Lyme disease.
The third infected tick was removed from a dog in the Lower Mainland in September 2016. This dog also has no signs or symptoms of Lyme disease.
When the first tick with this B. mayonii-like bacteria was confirmed, the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory retested all tick samples that had inconclusive results over the last several years and found that of more than 19,000 ticks tested by Public Health Agency of Canada and nearly 2,800 more at the BCCDC, these are the only three that have been found with this B. mayonii-like bacteria.
The prevalence of Lyme disease in B.C.
The BCCDC says less than one per cent of ticks tested in B.C. carry bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. The prevalence of Lyme-causing bacteria in B.C. ticks has also remained consistently low.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in North America. It can cause serious, long term disability if left untreated. Symptoms include a skin rash at the site of the tick bite, fever, headaches, fatigue, as well as muscle and joint pains.
The three ticks infected with the B. mayonii-like bacteria in B.C. were all Ixodes angustus ticks, the species that’s found in low numbers across Canada and most often is found on rodents and rabbits, but can also feed on domestic animals like dogs and cats and will occasionally bite humans.
Lyme disease in B.C. is typically caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi or B. burgdorferi, which is spread by Ixodes ticks found throughout B.C., but mostly in southern B.C., including Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast, the Fraser Valley and the Kootenays.
How to protect yourself?
The BCCDC is offering the following tips to help protect yourself from tick and insect bites:
• Stay on cleared trails whenever possible when walking in the woods or tall grass.
• Wear light-coloured clothing, tuck your top into your pants and tuck your pants into your boots or socks.
• Put insect repellent containing DEET on all uncovered skin. Reapply as frequently as directed on the container.
• Check clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live.
• Check in folds of skin. Have someone help you check hard-to-see areas. When a tick is located, remove it immediately. Check your whole body! Don’t stop when you find one tick. There may be more. Make sure the lighting is good so that you will not miss seeing the ticks.
• Regularly check household pets for ticks and talk to your veterinarian about products to prevent tick bites.
• If you have been bitten by a tick, and you develop symptoms, see your doctor about possible testing and treatment options.