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Frequently Asked


What is the UPTick Project?

The UPTick Project is a three-year study that will evaluate potential effects of urban change on the risk of human exposure to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. Surveillance activities will be conducted throughout the spring-to-fall transmission seasons of 2020 and 2021.

Who is conducting the research?

The project is led by medical entomologist Dr. Manisha Kulkarni (University of Ottawa, School of Epidemiology & Public Health), in partnership with Dr. Patrick Leighton (University of Montreal, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) and Dr. Anders Knudby (University of Ottawa, Department of Geography, Environment & Geomatics). It is being conducted in collaboration with Ottawa Public Health, the National Capital Commission, and the City of Ottawa's Planning Division, with participation from members of Dr. Kulkarni's INSIGHT Research Lab.

Where will the study take place?

The study will take place in the communities of Stittsville, Kanata, and Carp, and in the greenspaces immediately adjacent to the residential areas of these neighbourhoods.

How were the study sites chosen?

We identified potential regions of the city of Ottawa with recent/ongoing urban development initiatives using the National Capital Commission's 2013 Greenbelt Master Plan, which outlines land management initiatives across the seven Greenbelt sectors. The list of potential regions was refined in consultation with project partners from the National Capital Commission, Ottawa Public Health, and the City of Ottawa Planning Division. Following these meetings, specific locations were visited to assess their suitability for fieldwork (tick drags and placement of traps for small mammals). Neighbourhoods were ultimately selected to reflect different stages of forest fragmentation and landscape change, taking into consideration areas where prior surveillance activities and habitat models indicate the presence of established black-legged tick populations.

Why am I seeing people in white suits near my backyard?

We intend to conduct surveillance activities (dragging for ticks, setting and checking traps for small mammals) in areas across several stages of urban change:

  • Greenspace (natural wooded zones)
  • Areas of established boundaries between residential and woodland space
  • Residential zones and trails, including where active urban development is leading to new boundaries with woodlands​
By conducting these activities at sites that cover all of these stages of landscape change, our aim is to identify characteristics of neighbourhoods and development practices that may impact the risk of Lyme disease at the local level. The white suits you see us wearing are merely personal protective equipment - measures that allow us to perform this work safely and check ourselves for ticks easily when we leave areas where we do our work. The same precautions are taken regardless of the level of risk at the specific site being sampled.

Can my property be included in the project?

Our project will sample a specific number of sites at each of the stages of urban change we are investigating. For logistical reasons, sites are primarily located in public areas to facilitiate ease of access for sampling.

How is the research being done?

Ticks will be collected by drag sampling - pulling a 1 square metre white flannel cloth over and around vegetation where ticks may be present. Researchers will sample sites 200 square metres in size, stopping every 25 metres to examine the flannel cloth for ticks that have attached to it while being dragged. Tick drags will be conducted every 4 weeks at each site between May and October.

We will also trap and examine small mammals for two sessions of two consecutive days per site in the peak period of mouse activity near the end of July. A grid of 150 live traps will be set at each site. We will follow approved animal care protocols to collect ear tissue biopsies from small mammals for subsequent pathogen (e.g. Borrelia burgdorferi) testing. Once animals are measured and sampled, they will be released.
Trail cameras will be installed on trees in each site between May and October to collect information on the presence of white-tailed deer in the environment.

What will you do with the results?

With consultation of our partners and other urban planning researchers, we will produce a report that outlines the results of risk analyses and recommends best practices for limiting tick-borne disease risk in the community. This report will be provided to the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the intention of informing preventive strategies and healthy urban planning.

Why would collecting and testing mice help prevent Lyme disease in humans?

In the life cycle of the black-legged tick, a newly hatched larva does not carry the Lyme disease pathogen. In order to survive, tick larvae must attach and feed on another animal. This first blood meal may be from a host (e.g. mice, chipmunks, voles) which carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi - causing the tick to pick up become a carrier of the pathogen. It may then go into its second (nymph) and third (adult) stages of life and transmit pathogens picked up as larvae to subsequent hosts, such as humans. Image credit: Public Health Ontario Mice, especially the white-footed mouse, are the principal source (reservoir) of Borrelia burgdorferi. Collecting and testing white-footed mice for infection with tick-borne pathogens can help us detect and model the infection risk that may exist in the local environment.

Where does funding for the UPTick Project come from?

The "Best practices for urban planning in the context of climate change and emerging tick-borne diseases" project is supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, through the Infectious Disease and Climate Change funding program.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an important health concern in many parts of Canada and is spread by the bite of black-legged ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Most people are infected through the bite of an immature tick called a nymph. Symptoms of Lyme disease can be different from person to person. Early signs and symptoms usually start 3 to 30 days after you have been bitten by an infected black-legged tick. Most people experience flu-like symptoms soon after being bitten. A small number may experience more serious symptoms, sometimes weeks after the bite. Early signs and symptoms may include: Rash (often shaped like a 'Bull's eye'), fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen Lymph nodes

If left untreated, more severe symptoms may occur and can last months to years. These may include:

  • severe headaches
  • additional skin rashes
  • facial paralysis (e.g. Bell's palsy)
  • intermittent muscle, joint, tendon, and bone aches
  • heart disorders (i.e. palpitations, abnormal heartbeat)
  • neurological disorders
  • arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees but less commonly in other joints such as the ankles, elbows, or wrists
For more information on Lyme disease, please visit: Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Health Ontario , and Ottawa Public Health.

How can I protect myself from ticks?

Black-legged ticks are most often found in habitats that maintain ground-level moisture and humidity, such as in areas thick with tall grasses, bushes or shrubs, and forests.

Ottawa Public Health recommends adopting several practices to help minimize exposure to black-legged ticks while you enjoy the outdoors safely:

  • Apply a Health Canada-approved insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin to exposed skin and clothing.
  • Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, shoes, and socks to cover exposed skin.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing to spot ticks more easily.
  • Stay on trails while hiking in woods and other natural areas. Enjoy the mowed and maintained areas of parks but be mindful of borders adjacent to natural areas that may be suitable tick habitat.
  • Do a "full body" check on yourself, your children, and pets for ticks. Pay careful attention around your toes, knees, groin, armpits and scalp.

What if I find a tick?

If you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. The risk of getting Lyme disease increases with the length of time the tick remains attached.
Since Ottawa is considered an at-risk area for Lyme disease, it is important to contact your doctor if you believe a tick has been attached to you for 24 hours or longer, or if you are unsure how long it has been attached. If the tick was attached for less than 24 hours and its body does not appear swollen from feeding, it is advisable to still monitor your health for any signs and symptoms of Lyme disease for 32 days. If you develop any symptoms, contact your health care provider.

How can I control the number of black-legged ticks around my home?

You can't guarantee ridding your property of ticks completely, but you can reduce the risk of ticks in your yard. Here are some tips to make your environment less favorable to ticks:

  • Keep your lawn mowed.
  • Add a border of wood chips, gravel, or river stone that is 1 metre or more wide to separate your lawn from forested, shrubby or tall-grassed areas.
  • Remove brush and fallen leaves from the edges of your property, especially if your yard is bordered by woods or fields with tall grass.
  • Clean areas under and around bird feeders to reduce the attraction of small mammals such as mice and voles that may carry ticks.

What are you using the trail cameras for?

We will analyze photos from trail cameras to measure the presence and occupancy of white-tailed deer in different environments. We will then relate these data to our measures of tick and small mammal population density and infection rates to help us understand the drivers of Lyme disease risk. The trail cameras will not collect any personal information and any photos inadvertently taken of people will be erased.