Does this new awareness really help those with Lyme disease though or is there more that needs to be done in Canada?
Tick Tests for Humans
As far back as 2007, the Alberta government had a programme for testing ticks found on dogs, cats, other companion animals and farm animals but there was no system in place for testing ticks removed from humans or found in the wild. Dr. Martin Lavoie, deputy chief medical officer of health for Alberta said in a press release this week, “We’re asking for the public to help us gather data to determine whether ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria are present here in Alberta.” To do this, residents are asked to call a participating Alberta Health Services Environmental Public Health Office where staff will let them know how best to submit ticks for examination.
Cost of Tick Testing for Alberta
The cost of the programme is expected to run at somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000 annually, with costs rising as more ticks are submitted. The ticks submitted to the provincial health offices will be tested to determine their species and, if that species is a known vector for Lyme disease and other infectious agents, they will then be submitted to Canada’s main testing facility in Manitoba for further assessment. For advice on how to remove a tick and how to store a tick for later testing, click here.
No Lyme Disease Cases Reported as Contracted in Alberta
Those submitting the ticks will be able to find out the results of testing from Alberta Health Services but the programme is not designed to diagnose Lyme disease. This has angered many Lyme disease advocates who feel that scientific exploration is being prioritized over individual patients’ needs. However, health officials in Alberta maintain that there is a very low risk of contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite in the province and all 32 of the cases of Lyme disease reported to Alberta Health between 1998 and 2012 were said to be acquired during travel outside of the province.
Climate Change and Lyme Disease in Alberta
The geographical area in which ticks reside has expanded in recent years, most likely due to climate change making more northerly regions more hospitable as winters become milder. Animal migration and the continued invasion of humans into rural areas has also increased our exposure to ticks. Many people unfamiliar with the early signs of Lyme disease go undiagnosed because their physicians are also inexperienced in this regard. This kind of programme in Alberta is hoped to spread awareness of the bulls-eye rash that is distinctive in Lyme disease (although not always present or recognized), as well as the myriad symptoms such as an early flu-like illness, joint pain, heart palpitations, and neurocognitive difficulties that can appear with the infection.
Raising Awareness of Ticks in Canada
Ticks are usually found in wooded areas, long grass and even in garden lawns, meaning that many people are susceptible when simply playing with their dog or kids in their front yard. Alberta’s health officials note that in the past couple of years they have “identified about 41 ticks that were positive for the bacteria and about 226 ticks that could carry the bacteria.” These ticks were tested to determine their species and then sent onto the federal lab for bacterial testing. Having an improved understanding of the types of ticks present in Alberta and the bacteria that they are carrying can help to enhance the efficiency of testing for Lyme disease in a region where the infection has not been widely recognized or diagnosed.
Tick Endemic ‘only a matter of time’ in Alberta
Dr Lavoie says that “We know it’s only a matter of time before we see this tick becoming endemic to Alberta… When it starts showing up more and when it starts showing signs of being established in Alberta, we will know and then we will be better able to assess the risk to Albertans.” Other Canadian provinces may wish to follow suit. Anyone in Alberta who finds a tick on themselves or a family member can consult this list of public health offices to which the tick can be sent for testing.