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Lyme Disease in Alberta – Wet Weather Raises Risk

by lmatthews on August 18, 2012

Daniel Fitzgerald ticks in alberta

University of Alberta graduate student, Daniel Fitzgerald, identified sixteen types of tick in the province, including ones carrying Lyme disease.

Alberta residents should be on the lookout for ticks this summer as a leading Canadian researcher warns of an impending increase in Lyme Disease in Alberta following heavy rains in the province. Spring rainfall was excessive in Alberta this year and the moisture-loving ticks already present in the usually dry climate are expected to become more common in the coming months.

Climate change makes Lyme disease a moving target as places that used to have dry summers are now increasingly wet, giving ticks more areas to call home.

Wetter Alberta Weather Increase Lyme Disease Risks

The researcher in question is George Chaconas, a University of Calgary professor who holds the Canada research chair in the Molecular Biology of Lyme Borreliosis. Chaconas noted that ticks may migrate to remote areas by choosing migratory birds as hosts but that these travelling ticks tend not to survive in Alberta’s dry climate, up until now. A recent five year study by University of Alberta graduate student, Daniel Fitzgerald, found that sixteen species of ticks were present in Alberta, adding two new inhabitants previously thought absent in the province. Ixodes scapularis, the Lyme disease-carrying tick is one of the sixteen found and Alberta has seen twenty-seven confirmed cases of Borreliosis since 1998. The eight cases last year more than doubled the usual annual number and many consider these cases to be the lucky ones who were accurately diagnosed.

Lyme Disease Reporting in Canada


Lyme disease is not tracked at a federal level in Canada, unlike in the US where the CDC monitors cases and tracks tick-endemic areas. Confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the US amount to some twenty to thirty thousand a year, although the CDC itself notes that this is likely only a slice of the real cases as many go unrecognized. Continued denial of the presence of Lyme disease in Canada meant that, for many years, patients struggled to be diagnosed and treated, often traveling to the US for private treatment instead. Recent reports have revealed a reluctance on the part of Canadian physicians to report Lyme disease cases, although tick surveys in various provinces have confirmed the spread of the infection, including demonstrating Alberta’s growing Lyme disease problem, and the Federal Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, is calling for a national policy on Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease Awareness in Alberta

Albertans are being advised to educate themselves about Lyme disease symptoms so that the infection can be spotted early and treated before significant tissue damage or severe complications arise. Not all cases of Lyme disease develop the characteristic bull’s-eye rash and many cases are dismissed as summer flu, arthritis, or even misdiagnosed as depression, schizophrenia, and multiple sclerosis.

george chaconas lyme disease researcher canada alberta ticks

Lyme disease researcher George Chaconas is aiming to raise awareness of the infection as ticks spread across Alberta.

Early tests for the infection are notoriously unreliable as antibody levels are often insufficient to generate a positive result. Chaconas himself said that the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is “very exotic and different,” and that it is able to hide from the immune system, a common theory amongst Lyme disease sufferers whose symptoms persist even after antibiotic treatment has supposedly cured the infection.

Eradicating a Zoonosis

The presence of mice and deer in towns and cities across Canada are blamed for the spread of Lyme disease-carrying ticks as they act as a reservoir for the zoonosis. Chaconas has plans to work on a way of eradicating the disease in these host animals so as to reduce the risk to humans and he even says “If you can wipe out the disease in mice, then the disease goes away.” Other carriers of Lyme disease bacteria, such as birds, reptiles, and other rodents do exist, however, so mouse genocide may not be the answer to Chaconas’ predicted Lyme disease epidemic in Alberta. Staying Lyme-alert appears warranted though, given the great conditions for ticks this year.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary July 7, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Yes, I am just another of many who received positive Elisa Lyme tests in Alberta. I asked for this testing only because of multiple very serious health issues. The Western blots came back either equivocal or negative but the IGeneX Western blot came back positive.

I also tried to get copies of the breakdown of the blood bands in the Western blot tests, but it is not possible to get these from the Canadian lab, even if you go through your doctor. I tried all of this. IGenex sends copies without you even having to ask but the Canadian guidelines suggest hiding them. Even my ID specialist said he had no access to them.

If Canada is hiding nothing, why are they so reluctant to show people the copy of the actual blood band breakdowns?

My blood counts are falling, falling, and I have swollen lymph nodes and sore liver. Have had these for ages.

I was given 2 weeks of Doxycyline100 to treat the above symptoms. The blood count rose and the lymph swelling subsided, but of course after that they rose again.

My medical records say they are unsure if I have Lyme and that’s the end of the story! No more discussion!

How would you like to be told you may or may not have syphilis, or you may or may not have TB?

Is this the best we can expect in Alberta?

Recently I have been told I have metastatic cancer.
Right….. Yeah, it will be worth treating that all right, won’t it, when you have a disease that creates constant inflammation.

Constant bodily inflammation will surely encourage cancer so I don’t see that any kind of chemo or other treatment would help as long as the inflammation will never be addressed. Like many Lyme patients, I am trying to treat myself. When I can afford it, I do get treated by a Lyme specialist, but such specialists are not officially recognized in Canada, so I can only pay for treatment once in awhile.

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Mary July 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

My oncologist, by the way, stated in my records that I am unaware of the number of false

POSITIVE

Lime tests in Alberta. (Spelled Lime).

When you get those kinds of things put into your records by specialists who are supposed to be informed about things, this makes other doctors not take things seriously too.

As far as I’m aware, it’s extremely rare to get false positive for three types of Lyme on Elisa tests, plus get false positives on the Western blot. Only in Alberta would this be possible.

I also asked for testing for Babesia, but the only test they had for that was Malaria. So I got the Malaria testing instead. (There was no test listed for Malaria either. Babesia was the only test listed under that at the time.) They took one blood draw and the results showed that I didn’t have any Malaria-like parasites; then again, they couldn’t tell for sure though because sometimes a few blood draws need to be taken, not too far apart.

So in Alberta, you can rest assured that the words MAY OR MAY NOT have a disease, or UNSURE if you have a disease, are just fine, and there is no need to investigate further no matter how chronically ill a patient becomes.

What? Am I upset that I’m dying? Would you be under these circumstances?

They don’t understand why I don’t want treatment for metastatic cancer but to me, treating the ending diseases versus the causes of the ending disease that will continue to be promoted, somehow makes no sense. They think I’m nuts for fearing Alberta’s medical system but I really do, in multiple and very serious ways.

I’m not blaming doctors here, because I have heard through the grape vine that doctors are as terrified as scientists are, to speak out on issues that may be killing people. Also, testing for many deadly diseases with clear and obvious symptoms appears highly discouraged, because doctors are taken aside and told their testing costs are too high if they are a certain percentage higher than average.

In other words, I fear that the Alberta motto for doctors is, “please don’t test patients for deadly diseases, because if you find them, we will have to treat them, and we can’t afford that sort of thing.”

Wouldn’t surprise me if this disease mutated into other Malaria/Syphilis/Chikungunya, and many more soon, since it is being encouraged to spread. In a place like Alberta, with very high numbers of MS especially, which is often Lyme misdiagnosed, it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually had a higher number of cases here than in most parts of the world.

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