SACKVILLE, NB – With risks of Lyme disease growing across the country, one of the challenges nationwide is calculating the number of Canadians who are infected. Dr. Vett Lloyd, Mount Allison biology professor and founding member of the University’s Lyme Research Network and Dr. Ralph Hawkins, MD, clinical associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, are shedding some light on this number. Their findings were recently published in the journal Healthcare.
Lyme disease is a serious and debilitating bacterial infection that can result from the bite of an infected tick. As ticks, particularly black legged ticks, increase in numbers and spread into new parts of Canada, this disease is garnering more attention in the country and affecting more and more individuals.
“One unknown aspect of this contentious disease is the number of Canadians who are infected,” says Lloyd. “There has been an enormous discrepancy between the experiences of people in affected communities throughout Canada and the official numbers of those affected with Lyme disease. If everyone is working from the same baseline information we can perhaps start to move forward to dealing with this disease.”
Lloyd and Hawkins analyzed three independent data sets, U.S. public health data, Canadian public health data, and the number of dogs with a Lyme disease infection to generate an estimate of the true number of Canadians suffering from this disease. The province of New Brunswick, where Lloyd’s lab is located and where Lyme disease is emerging, was used as a case study, but the results are applicable across Canada.
Their results showed an under-detection of Lyme disease across all data sets. The pair estimate only between three and four per cent of cases are being documented in Canada.
“As a doctor, what worries me the most about this work is the fate of those people who are infected but not diagnosed,” says Hawkins, site lead for General Internal Medicine at South Health Campus in Calgary. “We know that the outcome for untreated Lyme disease patients is not good.”
Lloyd has been studying ticks and Lyme disease over the past five years and contracted Lyme disease herself when bitten by a tick in her yard. Hawkins treats Lyme patients from across Canada.
Lloyd and Hawkins say that addressing discrepancies around the number of people affected by Lyme disease is a beginning step in helping those affected obtain treatment.
“This study shows the value of independent research and the need to address the experiences of all Canadians with the disease, not just the minority that are captured by conventional Canadian testing,” says Lloyd.
Mount Allison University biology professor Dr. Vett Lloyd
Close-up of a tick, which is known to carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease