Councillor Aiken warns Lyme disease poses serious threat in Sackville area

Coun. Ron Aiken is part of Mt. A. research team studying Lyme disease

Town Councillor Ron Aiken is urging people in the Sackville area to be careful about ticks when they’re outdoors in the woods or in grassy areas.

During last night’s town council meeting, Aiken, who is a Mount Allison University biology professor, said the youngest ticks are so tiny they look like pepper and they’re more abundant here than federal health warnings indicate.

Later in an interview, he said about 15 to 20 per cent of ticks that are sent to the Mt. A. biology department for testing are found to be carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, a serious and debilitating illness with up to 79 symptoms.

“The adult ticks get up on the end of vegetation and wave around and attach onto people and pets,” Aiken said. “So, if you’ve got your dogs out there, give them a good check over.”

Mt. A. research team

Councillor Aiken is part of the newly established Mount Allison Lyme Research Network. It consists of 14 researchers who are studying everything from identifying and mapping the prevalence of tick species to better ways of diagnosing and treating Lyme disease.

“The Holy Grail right now in Lyme research is a good diagnostic test because we don’t have one,” Aiken said.

With support from the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Foundation, nine Mount Allison students will be spending the summer working on a number of projects including improving diagnosis, identifying new tick hybrids, exploring potential tick repellants and examining how victims of the disease are coping with its devastating effects.

Prevention is key

Mt. A. biology professor Vett Lloyd says the Lyme Research Network will also study more effective ways of communicating with the public about how to prevent the disease.

“It requires a change in behaviour,” Professor Lloyd told CBC Radio interviewer Jonna Brewer this morning.

“You have to check your kids when they’ve been out playing in the garden,” Lloyd added. “It’s a challenge to get people to realize that this has to be done before they pull a huge tick off their kid’s forehead.”

She added that, unfortunately, we will have to learn to live with this new threat.

“This is an emerging disease, it’s something that’s new and we have to adapt to it because courtesy of climate change, the ticks are here, they’re here to stay,” Lloyd said.

“We can certainly live with them. People have been living with ticks throughout the world. It’s just that it’s our turn now.”

For an earlier Warktimes report on a Canadian artist’s response to Lyme disease, click here.

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