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Ticks test positive for Lyme disease-causing bacteria in B.C.

Three ticks collected in British Columbia since June have tested positive for a new species of bacteria that can lead to Lyme disease, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

“This is a rare discovery which highlights that our tick surveillance program is working at both a local and national level,” said Dr. Eleni Galanis, with the BCCDC. “While further investigation is warranted, the health threat posed by this new species of bacteria is extremely low.”

The bacteria found is called borrelia mayonii, which can cause Lyme disease in people. Until now, it had only been confirmed in the Midwestern United States.

The species of bacteria discovered in the three B.C. tick samples is slightly different than that in the United States, and there is no evidence that anyone in B.C. has developed Lyme disease from this bacteria.

Two of the infected ticks were removed from Lower Mainland dogs, one in June 2016 and one in September. Neither dog has no signs or symptoms of Lyme disease.

The other infected tick was removed from a child in July 2016 who was bitten in the Central Interior of B.C. The child also was not stricken with Lyme disease.

The BCCDC and PHAC are still studying the clinical implications of this discovery.

"When the first tick with this B. mayonii-like bacteria was confirmed by PHAC’s National Microbiology Laboratory, the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory retested all tick samples that had inconclusive results over the last several years,” said Dr. Muhammad Morshed, clinical microbiologist with the BCCDC. “Of more than 19,000 ticks tested by PHAC, and nearly 2,800 more at the BCCDC, these are the only three that have been found with this B. mayonii-like bacteria.”

​In B.C., less than 1 per cent of ticks tested carry bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.

To protect yourself from ticks:

  • ​Stay on cleared trails when walking in the woods or tall grass.

  • Wear light coloured clothing and tuck in your clothes.

  • Put insect repellent containing deet on all uncovered skin.

  • Check clothing and scalp when leaving an area where ticks may live.

  • Regularly check household pets for ticks.

  • If you have been bitten by a tick, and you develop symptoms, see your doctor about possible testing and treatment options.

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