Be prepared, tick season is upon us

Faculty of Medicine
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By Paul Logothetis

Media Relations Agent, External Communications, uOttawa

Hand holding test tube with ticks inside
Manisha Kulkarni
A mild winter and wet spring has provided ticks with the right circumstances to be a real pest this summer. Preventative measures are necessary to monitor ticks and avoid your health being compromised.

Associate Professor Manisha Kulkarni of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine leads the UPTick research project and other initiatives which closely monitor tick populations in Ontario. Professor Kulkarni, from the School of Epidemiology and Public Health, provides insight and an overview of what tick season is looking like in 2023.

Question: What is the outlook for ticks this spring and into summer?
Manisha Kulkarni: “This is probably going to be a big year for tick populations because of the warmer winter we had, which allowed for the development and proliferation of ticks. We have already seen the emergence of ticks in Ottawa and other parts of Ontario. If we continue to have sufficient rainfall and warmer weather, then we can expect to have a strong tick season.”

Q: Why does it feel as if ticks are becoming more commonplace in Canada?
MK: “Warmer winters normally equal larger populations of ticks in the subsequent season. At my lab, we receive submissions from across Ontario via the
eTick platform and, this year, we received submissions throughout the winter, which is unusual. People have been encountering ticks more often throughout the year.”

Profile pictures of Dr. Kulkarni and associate
Manisha Kulkarni

“This is probably going to be a big year for tick populations because of the warmer winter we had, which allowed for the development and proliferation of ticks.”

Dr. Manisha Kulkarni

— Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medecine (pictured left)

Manisha Kulkarni

Q: What does the summer look like for ticks in the Ottawa/Gatineau area?
MK: “Eastern Ontario is a major hotspot for black legged ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. We live in a zone that ticks enjoy in terms of good habitat, deer populations, woodlands, etc. Climate change has made this a conducive environment with conducive weather for their propagation. If we have warm, humid weather this summer, which we normally do, we are bound to see a lot of tick activity.”

Q: What can the population do to avoid ticks?
MK: “Awareness is key. People, particularly those living just outside the city center in suburban neighborhoods, need to be aware of the risk associated with simple things like going out for walks. Particularly when you factor in that nymphs are active in the early summer and most responsible for Lyme disease. Nymphs are juvenile ticks that measure the size of a poppy seed, which makes them hard to detect and detach.

“There are also new tick-borne diseases emerging in eastern Ontario and the region thanks to black legged ticks carrying diseases such as Powassan virus or Anaplasmosis. These pathogens (a living organism which transmits an infectious agent from an infected animal to another animal or to a human) transmit very quickly, with Powassan causing severe conditions, including encephalitis (brain inflammation).”

Q: Talking prevention: what can people do to be aware and take precautions against ticks?
MK: “Permethrin treated clothing is available in Canada and it is ideal to wear when hiking in the forest or doing property maintenance, such as raking fall leaves where ticks tend to hide. You can also apply DEET repellant and ensure you wear long pants tucked into socks. Always do a tick check when you’re finished.

“If you have a residential property, you can reduce the chance of encountering ticks and protect yourself by clearing woodpiles and leaf litter or applying different products. We’ve been testing interventions such as deltamethrin-treated wood chips along trails in the Greenbelt the past two season and this has shown promising results.”

Q: Your research projects provide valuable vigilance on this topic; please tell us more.
MK: “The UPTick Project has been receiving funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Infectious Diseases and Climate Change Fund for the past four years. We look to provide urban planning solutions for battling tick-borne diseases amid climate change. We’re engaged in neighborhoods in and around Ottawa where we collect ticks and mice to see where Lyme disease transmission is happening, particularly along the borders of people’s properties that neighbor woodlands. We’re also collaborating with the National Capital Commission on other studies; for example, if you are hiking the Jack Pine interpretive trail in Stoney Swamp, you will find panels along the route this summer with information on ticks and tick prevention along the trail.

“The goal is to enhance awareness in areas such as Carp, Stittsville, Kanata, Orleans, the Green Belt zones, the National Capital Commission trails and more. We need to understand the risk associated with these areas.”

Tick on plant leaf
A black legged tick (Manisha Kulkarni)

More information on the UPTick Project is available here.

For media interview requests, please email Dr. Kulkarni at [email protected] or [email protected]