A suspected diagnosis of Lyme disease in a young girl in Newfoundland and Labrador has opened a discussion about the dangers of the disease and the ticks that carry it.

It's believed the 4-year-old girl from Brigus may have contracted the disease when playing outside. If diagnosed, hers would be the first case of someone in the province being diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Lyme disease diagnosis in 4-year-old Brigus girl could be 1st in N.L.
Increased risk of Lyme disease as more ticks move to N.L.
To help shed light on Lyme disease and the ways in which people can contract it, CBC Radio's On The Go caught up with Dr. Hugh Whitney, the province's Chief Veterinary Officer.

Here are five things Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should be aware of when it comes to Lyme disease-carrying ticks.

Ticks attach themselves to birds

Whitney says most of the Lyme disease-infected ticks arrive in this province by attaching to birds and making the trip across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

"There's been a risk of Lyme disease in this province for a number of years now," he said.

"We get the ticks arriving here every year on migratory songbirds that spread the disease."

Ticks can take three hosts in a lifespan 

Whitney said ticks typically feed on small animals like mice and birds as well as bigger animals like deer. In fact, he said the white-tailed deer is the most common animal found in Canada with tick infestations.

"The tick, which is commonly called the black egged tick or the deer tick, takes three different blood meals in its life," he said.

If a tick were to attached itself to a bird on the mainland and then comes to Newfoundland, it could potentially attach itself to a dog or person for its next meal.

Diseased ticks on the rise

While reports of blacklegged ticks vary across the country, Whitney said officials have found that numbers are on the rise.

"In earlier years in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick it was closer to 10 per cent and now it's more around 20 per cent, and I think that's a phenomenon that's seen elsewhere in Canada," he said.

"There are permanent populations which now exist in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — they have it permanently there.The closer that front gets to you it seems the higher the percentage you get that actually has the bacteria."

Newfoundland at lowest risk 

Whitney said his office submits rough 30 to 40 ticks from the province every year for testing, and only about 20 per cent of them are found to have Lyme disease.

While most ticks are found on dogs, he said he occasionally sees cases of ticks on people as well.

"Of all the provinces in Canada this province has the lowest risk," he said.

"But it's not zero risk, so that possibility has happened."

How to detect and prevent disease 

Whitney said most people or animals get ticks on their body when walking through long grass or bushes.

He said one thing people need to be aware of is that it takes 36 hours for a tick to transfer the disease to the person or animal it has attached itself.

Therefore, he said, people should be vigilant as the insects can be extremely small and hard to see.

"Ticks can be very tiny and there's three stages; larvae, nymph and adult," he said.

"The nymph can be as small as a sesame seed, so people should cover their legs and do a tick check when you get home."

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