Views / Science Says

New ticks on the block: Learn how to spot Lyme disease as summer approaches

Lyme disease is on the rise: Do you know myth from fact?

Blacklegged ticks are spreading Lyme disease around many of the most populous areas of Canada.

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Blacklegged ticks are spreading Lyme disease around many of the most populous areas of Canada.

You can wear bug spray, long sleeves and even tuck your pants into your socks (cool!), but from now until fall, you or your pet might encounter ticks, and an even less welcome hitchhiker: Lyme disease. It spiked from 144 cases in 2009 to an estimated 841 in 2016. And the warming climate means ticks are showing up in more places.    

What Lyme is - and isn't

IS: an illness caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria

IS: treatable with antibiotics

IS: transmitted from birds and mammals to people via ticks

IS: usually spotted as a “bulls-eye” rash at the site of a tick bite

IS: a cause of fatigue, headache, chills, fever, muscle and joint pain, cardiac problems, facial paralysis and even meningitis

IS: a cause of painful arthritis and changes to personality, brain function and speech — if untreated

ISN’T: A chronic infection. Although symptoms can continue long after treatment, “chronic Lyme disease” is unproven. There’s no benefit, but plenty of risks, to taking more antibiotics after the initial infection has cleared up.

Andres Plana/Metro

The Alberta exception

Alberta is located in the sweet spot between black-legged tick populations in eastern and western Canada. Just 34 ticks tested positive for Lyme bacteria in Alberta in 2016. So the chance of getting Lyme there is extremely low, although many other kinds of  ticks are plentiful in the province. 

Federal Framework

The government is set to release a framework for a national Lyme surveillance program this month along with guidelines and educational materials for health providers. The draft did not include references to the disputed “chronic Lyme disease,” sparking protest from patient groups.

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