What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is in the news a lot these days. It is an infection caused by a bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. In Ontario, Lyme disease is spread by the bite of a black-legged tick, commonly known as a deer tick. Most humans are infected through the bite of an immature tick called a nymph. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see; they feed during the spring and summer months.
What is the Situation in and around Ottawa?
Ottawa is not yet considered to be an established area for infected blacklegged ticks, however, infected blacklegged ticks can sometimes be found in this area. Areas close to Ottawa where infected black legged tick populations are established include: Leeds-Grenville-Lanark, Brockville and Kingston.
Due to the closeness of these areas, Ottawa is considered at-risk for becoming an established area for infected black legged tick populations in the future. Expansion of suburban neighborhoods has led to deforestation, increased human contact and a reduction of the predators that hunt deer as well as mice, chipmunks and other small rodents, which are the primary reservoirs for Lyme disease.
There are other types of ticks found in the Ottawa area but they do not carry Lyme disease. Nevertheless, awareness is an important part of prevention and detection.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms usually begin within three days to one month after being bitten by an infected tick. The most common sign of infection is an expanding area of redness (sometimes called a “bulls-eye” rash) that slowly expands around the tick bite. The rash is typically neither itchy nor painful. But note that about 25% of people do not develop a rash.
Other symptoms include: fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and/or swollen lymph nodes.
If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, consult your health care provider.
What is Being Done?
Lyme disease has long been misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Fortunately, awareness continues to increase as research continues and federal and provincial governments begin to enact prevention strategies. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May put forward a private member’s bill, C-442, which was unanimously passed with multi-partisan support in the House of Commons followed by the Senate in 2014, making it the first piece of Green Party legislation passed in Canada.
Now law, it will establish a framework for collaboration between the federal, provincial and territorial Health Ministers, representatives of the medical community, and patients’ groups to promote greater awareness and prevention of Lyme disease, to address the challenges of timely diagnosis and treatment, and to push for further research. Enactment requires the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for health and with representatives of the medical community and patients’ groups for the purpose of developing a comprehensive federal framework to address the challenges of the recognition and timely diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.
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