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Prof Using Pets to Track Ticks

Photo of Dr. Scott Weese, University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary CollegeUsing our pets to track ticks and the prevalence of Lyme disease is the focus of a new online reporting system aimed at understanding how the disease-carrying insects are spreading across Ontario.

The province has become a hotbed for the blacklegged tick known to carry B.burgdorferi, the bacteriuma that causes Lyme disease.

“Right now Lyme disease and ticks are mostly found along the north shore of Lake Ontario, but this area is expanding,” said U of G pathobiology professor Scott Weese, who developed the online tool. “If we can track where the ticks are, then we can get a better handle on where Lyme disease risk is because where the ticks move, the disease moves.”

The Pet Tick Tracker gathers information from pet owners who have found ticks on their pets. On the site, pet owners can provide details such as where the insects were likely picked up, as well as the type of tick and how many were found.

The system analyzes the information and updates a map showing the prevalence of ticks in Ontario that is shared with public health.

Launched a few weeks ago, the site has already had more than 1,500 reports.

Besides mapping the ticks, the online tool is also helping U of G researchers predict the insects’ movement and alerting them to the introduction of other tick species in the province.

“It’s an early warning system,” said Weese. “It will help us learn what type of ticks we need to pay attention to.”

While there are tick species known to be common in Ontario, rare ticks carried here by migrating birds have also been found, added Weese.

“There is a concern that some of these rare tick species might establish themselves and their diseases in the province. This online tracking system can identify areas that might need to be studied to determine whether a rare tick species has actually established a foothold here.”

Field researchers are also using the online reports to better understand the ecology of Lyme disease and the elements such as temperature, precipitation, elevation, vegetation and wildlife that help it thrive.

Pets, particularly dogs, are an effective way of monitoring the location of ticks, said Weese.

Read the entire article on the University of Guelph website.

(Photo: Dr. Scott Weese)