MONTREAL — A decade ago, Lyme disease was only found south of the border.
Originating in Lyme, Connecticut in the 1970s, the disease has now made its way North.
Quebec’s first cases emerged in 2008.
Since then, it has continued to spread at an alarming rate.
“We are predicting a rate of expansion of seven or eight kilometers per year northward in southern Quebec,” said Virginie Millien, a professor in the biology department at McGill University and curator at the Redpath Museum.
Millien explained that the disease is carried by mammals, notably the white-footed mouse.
The tick acts as a vector that transmits the disease from animal to human.
The number of cases of Lyme disease in Quebec is growing rapidly.
In 2012, the province saw 43 reported cases of the disease. In 2013, it saw 141.
The numbers are just as shocking in the Monteregie area, where most of the province’s cases emerge from, with 17 cases in 2012 and 74 the following year. The trend is expected to continue.
Why is it expanding so quickly? Researchers say the answer is climate change.
“The new environmental conditions are more favorable to the white-footed mouse, but also to the tick,” Millien told Global News.
“So all actors in the transmission cycle of the disease are now doing better.”
One of the problems with Lyme disease is that it’s difficult to diagnose.
Its symptoms – which include fatigue, fever, muscle-pain and redness – are like those of many other illnesses.
However, if left untreated, the disease can progress to something worse.
Once a tick penetrates the skin, it takes at least 24 hours to transmit the disease.
Health officials say the best way to prevent Lyme disease is to remain vigilant in wooded areas.
“We tell people to stay on the tracks and to cover their skin,” said Dr. Patricia Hudson of Sante Monteregie.
“When people go home, they should shower, then inspect their body to recognize the tick bite.”
If a tick is found, officials say there is no need to rush to the doctor.
Hudson says pointy tweezers can be used to grab the tick closest to where it contacts the skin, and pull it out.
It is important not to squeeze its body though as that could accelerate the transmission of the disease.