Join us in learning more about Lyme disease

By MPP Toby Barrett

With the end of summer, more Ontario residents will likely discover they have become infected with Lyme disease.

To raise awareness, I will be helping to host the screening of a documentary on Lyme, Sept. 10, 4 to 6 p.m., at Simcoe’s Strand Theatre. Please join us! Admission is free.

Last year there were 400 reported cases in Ontario. Many suspect the true number is even higher. The risk of tick bites isn’t restricted to hunting, fishing, camping, biking or hiking. It’s also a hazard for farmers and construction workers. Anyone working or playing out of doors can be at risk.

If administered early, antibiotics can be effective in treating Lyme.

If a tick is found, keep in mind it usually takes at least 24 hours for the Lyme bacteria to be transmitted. Many medical practitioners will immediately prescribe antibiotics. Others are more reluctant, and herein lies one of the challenges of this controversial disease.

Another challenge is bites could occur that aren’t noticed.

Whether a bite has been noticed or not, if you start to feel unwell in the weeks after being in tick country, talk to a doctor and explain your possible exposure. If you still have the tick, take it with you to be tested.

Patients showing clinical indications of Lyme – flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever, headaches, swollen glands and joint pain – could be tested for the presence of antibodies to fight the bacteria. Known as the ELISA test, this is the first step. Positive or indeterminate findings can result in the Western Immunoblot Assay Test. The challenge with testing is it takes time for antibodies to form and the first round of testing isn’t always positive. Research is underway for more accurate tests.

In its recently-released “Combating Lyme Disease Through Collaborative Action”, the Ministry of Health suggests care providers look at treatment based on clinical evidence, even if the tests are not positive. This recommendation applies even if there isn’t a history of a tick bite as long as there was exposure to ticks and symptoms of Lyme are present.

As part of its Lyme disease plan, the province is working on partnerships with the federal and local levels of government, health care professionals and researchers. Part of this is convening a roundtable with health care providers and those living with Lyme to discuss treatment options and access to care.

An anonymous online survey has been conducted of primary care providers to understand attitudes about Lyme disease. The Ministry of Health will also engage researchers and health care professional from other jurisdictions to ensure the most current scientific information is available. The ministry will also develop medical education modules about Lyme for health care professionals.

Going forward, government is mandated and has committed to ensure Lyme disease cases are diagnosed and treated as early as possible, increase awareness about Lyme and ensure patient-focused care is accessible with timely, evidence-based and supportive clinical management and care for those living with Lyme.

Locally, I join with the Ontario Lyme Alliance and Lyme Ontario to present Under Our Skin 2– Emergence – a film about living with Lyme disease. Again– it will be shown Saturday, Sept. 10 at the Strand Theatre in Simcoe from 4 to 6 p.m.