UPDATE: Elizabeth May has an online petition to call for a National Lyme Disease Strategy for Canada.
Lyme Disease in Canada
Up until the 1980s Lyme disease was pretty much unknown in Canada but it has become endemic in some parts of southern and southeastern Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, as well as in southern and eastern Ontario and in the Pacific Northwest in British Columbia. July is prime time for tick bites as the main tick season runs from May to September. Bites can, however, occur at any time of year and those spending lots of time outdoors in Canada need to remain vigilant as ticks become ever more present in undergrowth and even in the back garden.
Spreading Lyme Disease in Canada
Specific areas with established tick populations that are known to carry the Lyme disease bacteria include Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, Point Pelee National Park, Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area, and in the St. Lawrence Islands National Park area. Around a hundred cases of Lyme disease a year are reported in Ontario but this likely only represents a small number of actual cases as detection of the disease is poor due to lack of education and inaccurate testing methods as well as under-reporting of Lyme disease in Canada.
Green Party Leader Calls for Action on Lyme Disease
Lyme disease advocates, who now include Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, amongst their cohort, are calling upon the Canadian government to improve testing and treatment for the tick-borne disease. Ottawa saw only ten cases reported last year but many more are thought undiagnosed due to problems with differential diagnoses such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and even depression and schizophrenia. Lyme disease blood tests may return negative in the early stages of the infection as antibodies have not built up sufficiently. Repeated testing a few weeks later may show the presence of Lyme disease infection.
Current Lyme Disease Tests Fail Canadian Patients
The head of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, Jim Wilson, has stated time and again that tests used for Lyme disease in Canada are inaccurate and cause problems for patients misdiagnosed or undiagnosed while the infection causes permanent damage and disability, as it did in his daughter’s case (she now has a pacemaker due to Lyme disease damaging her heart). The problem, according to Wilson, is that the current tests are not capable of detecting the novel strains of the bacteria that have arisen in recent years, leaving patients exposed to rampant infection for longer while doctors insist that their mysterious symptoms are not evidence of Lyme disease. Newer tests for Lyme disease may be largely inaccessible due to the cost of setting up facilities to carry out the procedures.
A National Action Plan on Lyme Disease
In response to stories of rising infection rates, inaccurate testing, and Canadian patients having to head to the US to see Lyme disease specialists for treatment, Green Party leader Elizabeth May introduced a private members’ bill in June calling for a national action plan on Lyme disease. The plan would address testing, diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme disease in Canada. May hopes that the national action plan would help to prevent Lyme disease by increasing tick awareness, as well as improving diagnosis and ensuring patients receive prompt treatment.
Lyme Disease a Real Risk in Canada
The bill introduced by Elizabeth May calls on the federal Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq to hold a conference to draft a national plan for dealing with Lyme disease. Many more people are getting Lyme disease in Canada than anticipated by the medical community, according to May, creating problems with awareness as many physicians still hold the outdated view that Lyme disease is rare in Canada. The hope is that a new action plan would allow health districts to share expertise and improve the prognosis for patients with Lyme disease in Canada.