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Ticks and Lyme disease: Bad News, Getting Worse

By Richard Bell 

The bad news about Lyme disease and the black-legged ticks that carry the disease keeps getting worse. Nova Scotians love the great outdoors, but the continuing spread of these tiny ticks across the province makes thorough post-outdoors inspections critical for avoiding potentially life-long pain and suffering.

Nova Scotia has become a hot spot in Canada for Lyme disease according to the federal government.  And greater Halifax is now a “high risk” area for the disease according to the provincial Department of Health and Wellness (see map). Black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) can now be found almost everywhere in Nova Scotia. Birds like robins, wrens, and finches carry black-legged ticks far outside local hot spots.  

Symptoms 

Lyme disease can produce a bewildering array of symptoms. In some people, the first indication of a bite is what’s called a “bulls-eye” rash, an inflamed area that looks like a crudely drawn bulls-eye target. But many people never experience this rash, and the blood tests for the disease are unreliable. In Nova Scotia, the provincial Department of Health and Wellness guidelines tell physicians to rely on a clinical diagnosis, rather than the less reliable blood tests. The standard treatment for an early diagnosis is usually a few weeks of antibiotics.  

Chronic Lyme—A Bitter Political Fight 

 Even patients who are diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics can develop fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches that sometimes last for months or years. There has been serious disagreement in the medical community over whether Lyme disease causes such long-term symptoms at all. Some doctors prescribe long-term treatment with high doses of antibiotics for people with such post-Lyme symptoms. Patients’ groups have been fighting with medical authorities over the effectiveness of such long-term antibiotic treatments. 

(See Protecting Yourself from Lyme: Inspect, Inspect, Inspect for information about fighting back against ticks.)

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