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MTA Biologist Testing NB Dogs For Lyme Disease

Mount Allison University biology professor Dr. Vett Lloyd and her genetics lab are starting a new project to help measure the risk and current cases of Lyme disease in New Brunswick dogs and people.

With the participation of local veterinary clinics throughout New Brunswick, Lloyd’s research team will be collecting blood samples from dogs across the province and testing the blood for antibodies to Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Borrelia is commonly transmitted to both dogs and humans through tick bites.

“This kind of study gives us a way of figuring out how prevalent Lyme disease is in New Brunswick, not only in dogs but in humans, since most dogs live with people,” says Lloyd. “In a recent study conducted in New England, researchers found that for every six dogs infected, one human also had Lyme disease.”

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia bacteria. This bacterium is usually transmitted by a tick bite in which the disease causing bacteria is injected into the bloodstream. While early infection can be treated with antibiotics, if left untreated, infection can result in a wide array of symptoms. While most dogs can resolve the infection without treatment, it can cause serious, even fatal, symptoms for some dogs. Lyme disease in humans causes debilitating symptoms if left untreated and is emerging as a serious health problem across Canada.

Lloyd and her research team began testing ticks from the local area for Borrelia in 2012 and have been working to expand their studies since then.

She says, “We test tick DNA for three pathogens — the most known and probably the most dangerous being the Lyme disease bacteria. With warmer winters in the Maritimes, we’ve seen an increase in the number of ticks. In the samples we’ve collected locally there are more black-legged ticks than previously found in the area. This suggests that ticks are establishing new populations in New Brunswick, as well as Nova Scotia, which is why it is important for us to expand our testing groups and areas.”

The veterinarian’s test involves a simple blood extraction from the dog and the risks involved are minimal. The results will be released to the participating veterinarians and dog owners approximately one week after testing. There is no charge for the test itself, however, individual veterinary clinics may charge for blood extraction. For a list of participating veterinarians, please contact Dr. Lloyd at tel: 506-364-2509 (vlloyd@mta.ca).

Photo caption: Natalie Bjurman, master’s student at Mount Allison working with biologist Dr. Vett Lloyd, is shown with one of the many dogs who was tested for Lyme disease during a clinic at a Hampton Vet Clinic on January 11.