The first ever Maritime tick conference took place in Moncton on Saturday, bringing together doctors, researchers and people living with Lyme disease. The conference comes as tick populations are rising to record levels in the region, according to experts.
“Unfortunately while we suffered through the snow, what they (the ticks) were doing is they were sleeping underneath the snow. That’s actually a great place for them, they were really well insulated,” says Dr. Vett Lloyd. “What that means is we didn’t get as much of a die-off during the winter as we would have liked to see.”
Dr. Lloyd is a biology professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. On Saturday she organized a tick drag, collecting specimens for research.
As tick numbers rise, officials worry there will be more cases of Lyme disease.
“The number of ticks is increasing, the proportion of infected ticks is increasing,” Dr. Lloyd says. “Mostly the ticks are feeding from wildlife but they will feed from cats, dogs and people when they can.”
Cathy Smith was bitten by a tick in 1999. She developed the bulls-eye rash that is a tell-tale symptom of Lyme disease, but ignored the symptoms because she didn’t know anything about the disease. She was diagnosed four years later.
“Life is getting up every morning with horrendous head pressure, and twitching in my face,” says Smith.
There is still a feeling among many sufferers that Lyme disease is underdiagnosed in Canada. Some choose to seek treatment in the United States.
“We need to show how many of us are sick,” Smith says. “I believe it’s epidemic proportions.”
The ELISA blood antibody test is usually the first step in diagnosing Lyme disease, but some experts say it produces too many false negatives.
“It’s been too easy to say, you don’t have Lyme disease because you have a negative ELISA test, or you can’t have Lyme disease because you were treated for six weeks and it should resolve,” says Dr. Ben Boucher.
Dr. Lloyd says anyone who finds a tick on themselves or their pet should put it in a Ziploc bag and send it to Mount Allison University to be tested for Lyme disease.