Lyme has proven many approaches to be ill-prepared

By MPP Toby Barrett

As each year passes, the threat of Lyme disease is becoming more significant.

This spring, the Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Illnesses Task Force released its report recommending a number of ways forward to deal with Lyme.

Although there is no mention of my Private Member’s Bill A Provincial Framework and Action Plan concerning Emerging Vector-Borne Diseases Act, 2015, in the report there is little doubt this has been generated by the legislation. The bill was passed with all-party support in June 2015.

One of the complaints I hear from people afflicted with Lyme is so many struggle to find a doctor who will treat them. It is encouraging the report recommends a review of clinical practice guidelines and improving communications with health care professionals for diagnosing and treating Lyme.

In addition, education opportunities are recommended for regulated health professionals as well as establishing a coordinated care model for patients with Lyme.

One of the things that inspired my bill was hearing the stories of people who suspected they had Lyme having to go to the United States for testing. A recommendation to review testing methodologies could address this shortfall. In the longer-term, the report recommends standardizing testing and diagnosis.

Increased public education was a thrust in my bill. The report had a couple of recommendations on that front to improve education to the general public and to work with school boards, community groups and other provincial ministries to drive home the message of tick bite prevention.

A couple of the suggestions deal with research into tick-borne illnesses, which is encouraging and crucial if we are to get ahead of these challenges.

Recommendations in the report chart a path to fight the growing number of cases of Lyme disease in Ontario. My largest criticism with the report is the amount of time it took to complete.

There are also long-term recommendations in the report, addressing education, patient care, collaboration between health-care agencies and research.

The report recommendations should cover some ground on Lyme diagnosis and clinical treatment, but the fact remains tick prevention is the best thing to keep ticks and Lyme at bay. I hear unofficial reports tick numbers seem to be up, so prevention is even more important.

As we are now in the high tick season, it is important to stress clothing is one part of tick prevention that is often overlooked. Wearing light-coloured clothing makes seeing ticks easier. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants and tucking your pants into your socks are other measures to help keep ticks at bay.

Using insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin helps keep ticks away. After spending time outside, tick checks are of vital importance. Check and re-check for ticks, while paying special attention to your scalp, ankles, armpits, groin, navel and behind your ears and knees.

Another tip is putting your clothes worn in tick-prone areas in the dryer on high to kill any ticks. Taking a shower is also important as it could wash off any ticks that aren’t embedded.

Emerging vector-borne diseases, like Lyme have proven many approaches to be ill-prepared. An accelerated team effort of all levels of government and other institutions is crucial. While I’m pleased to see the report, more work still needs to be done.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk