Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Lyme Disease Cases Rising in Canada; Climate Change Cited as a Probable Factor

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Lyme Disease Cases Rising in Canada; Climate Change Cited as a Probable Factor

Article excerpt

Lyme on rise; climate change one culprit: PHAC

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TORONTO - More Canadians are contracting Lyme disease and federal health officials are partly blaming global warming for a dramatic uptick in cases.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to people by black-legged ticks that get infected after biting mice or deer that carry the bug. These ticks are referred to as vectors for the disease.

"As climates change across the country, that is certainly one of the major factors why we believe that it has spread in recent years," Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters after addressing a national conference on Lyme disease in Ottawa on Monday.

"The vectors have spread and we expect it to continue to change and it needs to be monitored closely," Philpott added.

In 2015, there were 700 new cases of Lyme disease reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), up from 140 cases in 2009. Lyme is now being diagnosed in southern B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

But PHAC chief Dr. Gregory Taylor said those figures are likely under-reported.

"We have estimates it could be thousands of Canadians getting infected, not just several hundred, and that is worrisome," Taylor said in an interview from Ottawa.

Some estimates project that Canada could see from 10,000 to 20,000 a cases a year if the ticks that carry the bacterium continue to expand their range into other parts of Canada.

In North America, the disease was first identified as a tick-borne infection in 1978 in the town of Lyme, Conn., and has been endemic in Canada since the early 1980s.

Immediate symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, body pain, fatigue and in some cases a bull's-eye rash at the site of the bite. Treatment with a short-term course of antibiotics can cure the illness.

But not all of those infected get that tell-tale rash, making it difficult for some patients to get early diagnosis and timely treatment, said Taylor, explaining that many doctors are unfamiliar with the hallmarks of the illness, having never seen a case.

"And part of what people worry about is that some clinicians think that you must have that rash to have Lyme, which is just not true. We know that not all patients have the bull's-eye rash. They can have a rash that doesn't look like a bull's eye or they can have no rash whatsoever."

If not treated promptly or left untreated altogether, Lyme can develop into a "very debilitating" chronic condition marked by lingering muscle and joint pain and neurological disturbances that can last many months. …

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