Lyme disease & tick surveillance program in Alberta
Ticks are small spider-like animals (arachnids) that bite to fasten themselves onto the skin and feed on blood. While most ticks don't cause serious health problems, it’s important to remove a tick immediately to avoid infection or potential diseases.
- How to remove a tick properly
- Read more about ticks and tick bites
- Find out what's happening in Alberta with ticks
Alberta has a program where you can submit a tick if you find one on yourself, another person, and even on your pet:
If you find a tick on your pet, yourself, someone else, or anywhere outside, Alberta Health asks you to submit it for testing as part of a tick surveillance program.
Ticks will be checked to see if they are blacklegged ticks. All blacklegged ticks will be tested to see if they carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that can cause Lyme disease in humans. Results of this program will help Alberta Health better understand the risk of Lyme disease in Alberta.
How do I submit a tick
- If a tick is attached to your skin, read how to remove a tick safely, below.
- Bring it to an Alberta Health Services Environmental Health office locations Phone first to make an appointment
- If you live in a First Nations community in Alberta, contact the health centre in your community.
- If you find a tick on your pet, you can take the tick to most veterinarians. Contact your local veterinary clinic to find out if they will submit ticks for testing for you.
Note: This program does not test for Lyme disease in humans. If you are concerned about a tick bite, see your physician, and bring the tick with you, if you have one, as part of your patient care visit.
Tick removal and preparation – Do’s
- With tweezers, gently grasp its head and mouth parts as close to your skin as possible.
- Slowly pull the tick straight out – do not jerk or twist it.
- Save the tick in a clean, empty pill bottle or double zip-lock bag. Do not add any ventilation holes to the container that is being used to put the tick(s) in. You can put more than one tick in the container if they are found on the same person or in the same general area in the environment.
- Add a small piece of tissue, lightly moistened with water, to prevent the tick(s) from drying out.
- Call ahead before visiting an AHS Environmental Health office , First Nations health centre or veterinarian to submit your tick.
Tick removal and preparation – Do Not’s
- Try not to squash it.
- Do not apply matches, cigarettes, or petroleum jellies to the tick as these may cause an infected tick to release the bacteria into the wound.
Tick testing and results
- This program does not test for Lyme disease in humans. If you are concerned about a tick bite, see a physician.
- Tests performed on ticks submitted by the public will determine two things:
- What kind of tick it was;
- Whether that tick is carrying the bacteria (B. burgdorferi) that can cause Lyme disease.
- After a tick is submitted to an AHS Environmental Public Health Office or First Nations health centre, you will get the result from the Environmental Public Health Officer in about a week.
- After a tick is submitted to your veterinarian, you will get the result(s) from the veterinarian in about a week.
Passive tick surveillance (ticks found on companion animals, primary dogs and cats voluntarily submitted by a veterinarian) began in 2007 in Alberta. Since 2013, ticks found on humans or in the environment are being accepted at many Alberta Health Services Environmental Health offices and health centres on First Nation reserves.
What we are doing in 2015
Alberta Health and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development will be continuing to monitor the results of the passive surveillance program to determine if more targeted surveillance should be done. This will help Alberta Health to determine whether blacklegged ticks are becoming established in Alberta and assess the risks to Albertans.
Results from 2014 tick surveillance
In 2014, 1376 ticks were submitted to the Alberta tick surveillance program:
- 614 (45%) ticks were found outside Alberta.
- 681 (49%) non-blacklegged ticks were found within Alberta. Local Alberta ticks such as moose ticks and Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks (i.e., Dermacentor species) do not carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease in humans.
- 72 (5%) blacklegged ticks (i.e., Ixodes ticks) found in Alberta were negative for B. burgdorferi.
- 9 (0.7%) blacklegged ticks found in Alberta were positive for B. burgdorferi.
Results from 2013 tick surveillance
In 2013, 960 ticks were submitted to the Alberta tick surveillance program:
- 380 (39.6%) ticks were found outside Alberta.
- 441 (45.9%) non-blacklegged ticks were found within Alberta. Local Alberta ticks such as moose ticks and Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks (i.e., Dermacentor species) do not carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease in humans.
- 84 (8.8%) blacklegged ticks (i.e., Ixodes ticks) were negative for B. burgdorferi and had no travel reported.
- 30 (3.1%) blacklegged ticks were negative for B. burgdorferi and were found while travelling within Alberta.
- 21 (2.2%) blacklegged ticks were positive for B. burgdorferi and had no travel reported.
- 4 (0.4%) blacklegged ticks were positive for B. burgdorferi and were found while travelling within Alberta.
What this means for Albertans
- Between 1991 and 2014, 63 cases of Lyme disease were reported to Alberta Health. All were reported as having been acquired while travelling outside of the province in areas where the bacteria causing Lyme disease is known to circulate.
- There was an increase in the number of ticks submitted by Albertans but a decrease in the number of blacklegged ticks and of ticks that were positive for B. burgdorferi.
- Based on the evidence to date, we don’t believe that blacklegged ticks are established in Alberta.
- In Alberta, the risk of being bitten by a blacklegged tick is low. The risk of being bitten by a blacklegged tick infected with B. burgdorferi, the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease in humans, is even lower.
- There are ways to protect yourself from tick bites:
- Cover up as much skin as you can when you're going to be in wooded or grassy areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. It’s a good idea to wear light-colored clothes so ticks are easier to identify. Check yourself for ticks after you’ve been outside.
- Use a bug spray that contains the chemical DEET to repel ticks.
- Check your pets for ticks after they've been outside. You can't get Lyme disease from your pet, but your pet can bring infected ticks inside. These ticks can fall off your pet and attach themselves to you.
- If you find a tick, submit it (see how above). If you are concerned that you have been bitten by a tick, see a physician.
Lyme disease can be a debilitating disease affecting humans, wildlife, and domestic animals. It is caused by the bacterium B. burgdorferi and usually is transmitted by ticks. This disease is named after Lyme, Connecticut, where the first outbreak in humans in North America was recognized in children in 1975. However, the bacterium was likely present long before 1975. Generally, people do not die from Lyme disease and it can be treated readily if diagnosed early.
Other tick-borne diseases
Ticks can carry other organisms that may cause diseases in humans such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (transmitted by Dermacentor andersoni), Powassan virus (transmitted by I. cookei) and Tularemia (transmitted by D. variabilis). The number of cases of these diseases reported to Alberta Health each year varies from 0–3 cases, mainly locally-acquired cases. Like Lyme disease, there is a very low risk that other tick-borne diseases, such as Ehrlichiosis or southern tick-associated rash-illness (STARI), may be dispersed into Alberta by migratory birds.
- Submit-a-Tick program information sheet
- Alberta Health Services Environmental Health office locations accepting ticks
- Tick bites – MyHealth Alberta
- Lyme Disease – MyHealth Alberta
- Tick Surveillance Summary Report 2014
- B.C. Centre for Disease Control
- Government of Canada: Lyme disease
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – USA
Tick submission forms for use by health professionals and veterinarians
Not for use by the public.
- Surveillance of Ticks on Human and in the Environment Reporting and Shipping forms available for order at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Veterinarian submission of ticks found on animals
- Physicians – refer to the ProvLab Guide to Services or contact the Microbiologist-On-Call.