Kingston’s chief medical officer is taking part in a research project that aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.
The spread of black-legged ticks and Lyme disease are on the rise in Canada. Statistics compiled by the federal government from provincial and territorial public health agencies show that in 2016, there were 992 cases of Lyme disease across the country. The following year, Lyme disease cases jumped to 2,025.
Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health, says ticks have been in the region for over a decade, but Lyme disease is on the rise.
“We are now equivalent to Lyme (disease) in Connecticut, where this was all first diagnosed in northeastern North America, and we have the same rates of infection to those high-endemic areas in Kingston,” he said.
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Moore is one of three doctors heading a four-year, $4-million Lyme disease research project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
The initiative involves Queen’s University and over 40 other universities and public health institutions across the country, and their work covers four areas: diagnostics, prevention and risk reduction, clinical science and educating the public and members of the medical field.
Dr. Manisha Kulkarni, who is also heading the project, is focused on risk reduction and prevention. One of the Ottawa-based doctor’s tasks is mapping the spread of Lyme disease and discovering where people are coming into contact with ticks.
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Kulkarni says that information will help focus education and prevention efforts.
“Is it more around residential areas? Are people being more exposed in parks and trails, for example, so we can have that better mapping of Lyme disease risk across the region,” Kulkarni explained.
Moore says that in the Kingston region, some medical practices have already begun to change the way in which they approach cases of Lyme disease.
When an individual shows the telltale bullseye rash from a Lyme disease-infected tick bite, the person is automatically treated without a blood test.
Not all tick bites leave that rash, says Moore, and early symptoms for Lyme disease are similar to flu symptoms.
Moore says getting that information to doctors is critical for early diagnosis.
“When they’re approaching a patient with a fever they can’t figure out, (doctors) have to know whether Lyme is a potential cause for that fever,” he explained.
He adds that his research will be working on developing a better blood test for detecting Lyme disease as Moore says the current test isn’t very successful at early detection.
“The blood test is not sensitive. Only one in 10 will be positive in the first week of getting those initial symptoms,” Moore said, adding that the current test requires taking blood samples at various times from people with Lyme disease.
He expects to begin recruiting people for his research in a month’s time.