By Richard Bell
The weather's warm enough to worry about one of the downsides of the great outdoors, Lyme disease, from the bite of a blacklegged tick infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium that causes the disease.
Although a quick course of antibiotics will usually kill off the bacteria, there are still no simple or reliable methods for diagnosing the disease, leaving patients at the mercy of their doctors' evaluation of the bewildering variety of symptoms which Lyme Disease sufferers present. And if a victim misses this early treatment window, even chronic courses of antibiotics may not be enough to eliminate the disease.
The first case of Lyme Disease in the province was reported in 2002, and the numbers have been going up ever since, thanks in part to birds carrying the ticks across the province. Provincial health officials warn that Nova Scotians may encounter blacklegged ticks anywhere in the province, and that HRM is one of the province's hot spots.
In some people, the first indication of a bite is 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 2021, the Nova Scotia Health Authority authorized the province's pharmacists to offer free assessments of the need for treatment to prevent Lyme Disease.
The Nova Scotia Health Department has released the following list of things you can do to reduce the possibility of getting Lyme disease:
- Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants to increase visibility.
- Wear light-colored socks and enclosed shoes while working or playing outside or hiking.
- Pull socks up over pant legs and tuck in shirts.
- Spray clothing and exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin and always make sure to follow directions on the label.
- Check clothing and body carefully for ticks after working or playing outside, especially in bushes or long grass. Pay special attention to armpits, the back of the knees, and the groin or pelvic region.
- Put outdoor clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any remaining ticks.
- Remove any ticks attached to the skin promptly and safely clean the bite area with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Keep grass cut and remove leaf litter to minimize a suitable habitat for ticks on properties.
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 can sometimes last for months. Treating people with chronic symptoms has become a highly controversial area of medical practice. Some doctors prescribe long-term treatment with high doses of antibiotics for people with such post-Lyme symptoms, and there is a growing movement of sufferers who swear by this approach.
But most doctors and public health officials oppose such long-term use of antibiotics. For example, in a "Statement for Managing Lyme Disease in Nova Scotia," the Infectious Diseases Expert Group (IDEG) of the Department of Health and Wellness concludes, "Studies have demonstrated that longer-term antibiotic treatment is no more effective than the standard recommended course of treatment and may be associated with complications. Longer-term antibiotics are not recommended."
In Nova Scotia, Donna Lugar has been leading a grassroots lobbying effort to get the provincial government to take three steps to fight TBDs (Tick Borne Diseases) more aggressively: a clinic dedicated to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, better education for health care providers, and a "Non-Partisan Lyme Disease Task Force" that includes people "with lived experience of TBDs." Thus far, neither the Dexter, McNeil, nor Houston administrations have adopted any of these suggestions. Lugar's website is https://shiningthelymelight.com/.
For more information, including how to remove and dispose of ticks safely, visit https://www.novascotia.ca/ticksafety.