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Lyme Disease Primer

Epidemic Alert

On a recent visit to Northern California, my enjoyment of Napa’s finest wines was interrupted by a sobering awareness.  The California Lyme Disease Association (CALDA) is referring to Lyme disease as ‘California’s Hidden Epidemic’. Private medical clinics, blending allopathic and holistic medicine in the treatment of tick-born illnesses, are overflowing and new patients can expect wait times of two to three months for initial assessments. Medical tourism may soon surpass wine-tasting as the number one reason to visit wine country. Sadly, Canada’s wine industry has its own tragic ties to Lyme disease. Gabe Magnotta, co-founder of Niagara-based Magnotta winery died in 2009 following a long battle with Lyme. He loved the outdoors and was bitten by a tick on an outing.  His wife Rossana now sits on the Board of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme).

CanLyme (www.canlyme.com) was created to provide balanced and validated information on Lyme disease and related bacterial infections amidst growing concern that government public health agencies simply aren’t doing enough when it comes to the prevention, diagnosis, testing and treatment of Lyme disease.  The bacterial infection is most responsive to treatment in its early stages and both diagnosis and treatment become more difficult with the passage of time.  The Public Health Agency of Canada (www.publichealth.gc.ca) provides a list of ‘known and suspected’ Lyme endemic areas in Canada:  British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are all on the list.  Scientists are studying the occurrence of tick populations in Canada and report that while the risk of encountering ticks infected with the ‘Borrelia Burgdorferi’ spirochete bacteria is low, the number of identified risk areas is on the rise in eastern Canada.

In addition, the Public Health Agency of Canada is currently researching the potential impact of climate change on the distribution of ticks that carry Lyme disease.  The Ixodes tick, also known as the black-legged or deer tick, is the most common ‘Lyme’ carrier.  Ticks prefer cool, moist places and can be found in both rural and urban areas.  Ticks feed on woodland wildlife like deer, mice and squirrels, pick up bacteria and pass it on to their human hosts. Most humans contract Lyme disease from the young nymphal ticks that are the size of a poppy seed.  Since the nymphs are so small and the bites painless, most people may not realize they have been bitten.  The nymphs are more prevalent in spring and early summer and prefer wood surfaces like trees, fallen logs and the underside of picnic tables.  I was surprised to learn that ticks can survive cold temperatures and are still a risk in winter.

Lyme Disease Diagnosis is Based On...

  • presentation of typical signs and symptoms
  • bulls-eye ‘EM’ rash (Erythema Migrans)
  • ‘positive’ blood test results
  • history of possible exposure to ticks carrying Lyme disease bacteria

 

The Canadian Institute of Health Research is interested in Lyme disease.  Funding of $820K over a five-year period has been earmarked to advance understanding of the pathogen causing Lyme disease.  There are over 100 symptoms linked to Lyme disease, complicating diagnosis. The characteristic ‘bull’s eye’ rash at the site of the bite is present in less than 40% of patients and may not appear for days or weeks.  Since ticks often bite around the hairline, armpits or groin, it is easy to miss a tick bite. Some patients have reported flu-like symptoms, fever, aches, chills, fatigue, neck stiffness, night sweats, swollen glands, muscle pain and stiffness.  Symptoms may appear, disappear and re-appear. Patients with chronic inflammatory and neurological conditions such as ALS, MS, Crohn’s disease and Fibromyalgia have been diagnosed with what is being called ‘chronic Lyme’.  There is also concern that the method of blood testing used to screen for Lyme in Canada is unreliable.  Early detection and treatment is essential to recovery and lessening the risk of chronic illness.

In Canada, a two-tiered blood test is used to measure antibodies.  If the first test, ELISA (enzyme-linked immune assay) results are negative, the second Western Blot test (protein immonoblot test), which is more specific, is usually not ordered.  Blood tests may result in false negatives in patients with early Lyme disease or those on antibiotic treatment.  The accuracy of blood tests is considered to become more reliable as the infection progresses.  Unfortunately, this creates a risk given the disease becomes more difficult to treat once chronic.  Other blood testing options are available through US Laboratories and can be arranged with local holistic healthcare practitioners, although these tests are not covered by OHIP.

The current recommended treatment for Lyme disease depends on the severity of symptoms.  High dose, long term protocols using oral and IV antibiotics are the norm and in the US are usually combined with homeopathic and nutritional protocols.  Heavy metal and mold toxicity, as well as viral infections are also hidden culprits in severe cases.  Complex Lyme disease patients are sometimes diagnosed with more than one bacterial infection, since the ticks can carry strains other than Borrelia burgdorferi.  Babesiosis, Bartonella and Ehrilichiosis are common co infections.

If you and/or family and friends are struggling with symptoms that remain undiagnosed or unresolved, consider investigating Lyme disease.  It’s more common than you’d imagine.

 

 

Did You Know?

  • Ticks take up to 3 days to feed on human hosts.  Risk of contracting Lyme disease is directly correlated to length of feeding/attachment time
  • Tick removed within 24 hours:  0% risk of transmission
  • Within 48 hours: 12% risk of transmission
  • Within 72 hours 79% risk of transmission
  • Within 96 hours 94% risk of transmission

 

 

 

Kashka Kril-Atkins is a homeopath with a special interest in the treatment of Lyme Disease.  You can reach Kashka @ BLUEPRINT Wholistic Health Clinic in midtown Toronto.  www.blueprintwellness.ca