Lyme disease ticks off capital

By Jullian Paquin

People in Ottawa are ticked off about Lyme disease and they’re biting back with a fundraiser in Centretown to raise awareness among the public and cash for the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation.

The number of cases in Ottawa increased tenfold between 2010 and 2015, according to Ottawa Public Health.

The rising numbers can be attributed to a growing tick population in the region and global warming.

Increased awareness of the disease has helped, resulting in more reported cases.

Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks that carry Borrelia bacteria. Ticks become carriers of Lyme disease by feeding on infected animals such as mice, birds, and deer.

Migratory birds bring Lyme disease with them on their flights north in the spring, which is the start of tick season.

Canadians who are diagnosed with Lyme disease often have to travel to the U.S. for testing and treatment that is unavailable here.

Nicole Bottles is an advocate for Lyme disease victims.

She started a petition pressuring the federal government to implement a science-based framework that will acknowledge the seriousness of the disease.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease look a lot like the flu, including headaches, fever, body aches, and fatigue. As well, a ring-like rash often develops.

If symptoms are not treated with antibiotics quickly, the condition can develop into chronic Lyme disease, which is much harder to treat.

Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease include pain, aching joints or muscles – which in serious cases can lead to paralysis – and decreased short-term memory.

One of the main problems with Lyme disease in Canada is that the testing protocol isn’t highly effective.

Doctors test for antibodies in blood, checking to see if there has been an immune reaction to Lyme bacteria.

“They’re using a very narrow testing protocol and its missing far too many people,” said Jim Wilson, president of the B.C.-based Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation.

Another problem with testing for Lyme disease is that doctors often only conduct tests if the patient has recently visited a known endemic area.

“Ticks are transported randomly everywhere and anywhere that robins, finches, wrens and seabirds fly so to tie it only to known endemic areas is intentionally keeping the numbers low,” said Wilson.

Because of the loopholes in testing, many people are left undiagnosed for years – such as Jessica Thibault, a 22-year-old from Ottawa who is organizing the fundraising event.

Thibault has been struggling with severe health problems since childhood and only recently figured out that she had Lyme disease, along with a severe co-infection, babesiosis. Since starting treatment, her family has racked up a bill of $10,000 over the course of a few months because most treatment methods for Lyme disease are not covered by provincial health insurance.

“People need to fight for it, we need to fight for better care, we need to fight for prevention because right now, no one even knows what Lyme disease is,” said Thibault.

The event, “Ticked off about Lyme disease: Let’s bite back!” is to be held May 6 from 7-10 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion on Kent Street. There will be music and light refreshments, along with a silent auction and a photo booth.

Funds raised at the event will help Thibault’s family cover the costs of treatment and raise money for the foundation, which raises awareness, conducts research and teaches doctors in Canada about the importance of testing for and treating Lyme disease.

Tips on How to Avoid Tick Bites

  1. Wear long pants and sleeves when hiking in grassy or wooded areas
  2. Pull your socks over your pants and tuck your shirt in
  3. Wear lighter coloured clothing so ticks are easier to spot
  4. If you discover a tick, don’t rip it out, remove it safely using a tick “key” to reduce the chance of infection.