polo rugby Area labelled hot spot for ticks
Greg Bulte doesn’t take chances anymore when it comes to the black legged ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
Even though he was treated and no longer has any symptoms of the disease he acquired six years ago, Bulte regularly gets his blood tested. A PhD student working at the Queen’s University Biological Station, he methodically checks his body for ticks each time he spends time outdoors in areas where there is a known risk for the disease.
Though he acquired Lyme disease while doing fieldwork in Maryland, a high risk zone for ticks, his job at the research centre north of Kingston is located in an area where the risk of coming into contact with Lyme Diseasecarrying bugs is on the rise.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has labelled the area around Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands near Kingston as hot spots for increasing risk of contacting Lyme disease.
Robbin Lindsay, a research scientist with the agency, said the tick population seems to be peppering the area from Kingston to Brockville along the Thousand Islands Parkway.
“On some of the islands in the Thousand Islands area, there are established black legged tick populations and those populations have the bacteria that cause Lyme disease,” he said.
“People are certainly coming into contact at a much higher rate than they have in the past.”
Canada’s tick population was once limited to one area on the Long Point peninsula on Lake Erie’s north shore. Spread by the birds on which they feed, the bugs have spread to areas across the country over the past 15 years.
Those areas include the shores of Lake Erie, around Lake Ontario, the Thousand Islands, Nova Scotia, southeastern Manitoba and southern British Columbia.
In the Kingston area, Lindsay estimates that roughly eight per cent of the ticks people are taking to local public health units carry the Lyme bacteria.
“I would expect over time, as the [tick] populations become more established in those areas, the infection rate will climb and the risk will increase,” he said.
In the face of this increasing risk, the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation laments an almost complete lack of public education about it.
Jim Wilson, president of the foundation, is disappointed with the management of the disease in Canada.
The association has asked the federal government to set up an independent review panel to look at the incidence of the disease in Canada. So far, that hasn’t happened.
A Winnipeg MP has also called for a national strategy to diagnose and treat Lyme disease in response to an increasing threat of the infection across Canada.
Judy Wasylycia Leis, who is also the NDP health critic, submitted a formal request to Health Minister Tony Clement in June, urging Ottawa to set up a strategy to diagnose, treat, and do better surveillance for Lyme disease.
Bulte agrees there should be more public awareness for citizens and doctors.
He recalls a student who was working at the Queen’s research facility two summers ago when she suspected she may have contracted Lyme disease. She went to see a doctor and was told there was no Lyme disease in Canada.
“A couple of days later, the same doctor called her back because he read a newspaper article about Lyme Disease and said, ‘We’re going to test you after all,’ ” he recalled.
While the student tested negative for Lyme disease, Bulte said the doctor’s ignorance of the disease and the rising risk of contacting it in this area indicates the need for more public education.
When Bulte acquired Lyme disease, he was doing fieldwork in the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary near Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, where knowledge about Lyme disease is much more common than Canada. He considers himself lucky that he was able to detect the infection early, something he credits with his knowledge of the disease and ticks.
Three weeks after he had to remove a tick out of his left shoulder, he recognized the tell tale bull’s eye rash in the same spot. He’d become ill with flu like symptoms, including weakness and confusion. He immediately went to a clinic.
After visiting the doctor, he was placed on antibiotics, and two days later, he was back doing fieldwork. He says he has had no lasting effects of Lyme disease.
Generally it has to be treated early for such a positive outcome.
If untreated, in the later stages, the disease can move through a person’s tissue, embedding itself in the central nervous system, heart, liver, brain, spleen and joints, causing symptoms including mild pain, dizziness, confusion and paralysis.
It can have devastating effects and can be hard to diagnose which, for some, can result in months of suffering.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Dave Williams, said the province is keeping close watch over the spread of the bug and is taking the the threat of infection seriously.