A student-researcher in Kingston, Ont., is currently looking to assess how potential tick-bite and Lyme disease patients are assessed and cared for in Ontario.
Emilie Norris-Roozmon, a master’s candidate at Queen’s University, said she’s trying to measure the tick-bite “patient experience.”
“The trouble with tick-borne illness is that there’s many people who are frustrated and they’re sick. Yet they don’t have a definitive diagnosis,” Norris-Roozmon said.
Lyme disease is just one of the diseases transmitted from the bite of a black-legged tick, otherwise known as a deer tick, but it can become a serious illness if not treated.
According to Ontario Public Health, “the number of Lyme disease cases reported in Ontario has increased since the mid-2000s when less than 100 cases were reported annually. In 2017, 1,003 confirmed and probable cases were reported,”
In 2018, the province recorded 624 cases of Lyme disease. Data for 2019 is not yet available.
Tick populations have grown across Canada as warmer weather has settled in, according to Ontario Public Health, resulting in higher cases of Lyme disease.
Because the prevalence of the disease in Ontario is fairly new, Norris-Roozmon said there is currently a “gap in knowledge” when it comes to testing that leads to false positives and negatives. She also added that Lyme disease or other illnesses from ticks are treatable with antibiotics if they are caught early, but if testing isn’t accurate, it can lead to dangerous results.
“The issue is that, of course, doctors don’t want to just blanket statement, prescribe people antibiotics if there’s no evidence for Lyme. So this causes frustration because if left untreated Lyme and other tick borne diseases, they manifest into something that’s chronic,” she said.
Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for the Kingston region, is also a researcher with the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Network. Moore became involved in study last year that aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Moore told Global News last year that tests can be inaccurate when the disease is in its early stages, and sometimes, patients are diagnosed with something other than Lyme disease, because symptoms can mimic other ailments, like meningitis, arthritis, stroke, heart disease, Bell’s palsy and multiple sclerosis.
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Norris-Roozmon wants to measure these gaps in her study.
“I want to understand what was their experience? Were they diagnosed? What was the level of care? Was there co-morbidities that increased the severity of their symptoms? This is really an opportunity for citizens who have experienced tick bites to inform both scientists and health care practitioners of what their tick-born illness care was.”
She is looking for 500 people who have been bitten by ticks this spring, summer and fall, to measure how they were assessed by the province’s medical system.
She noted that eastern Ontario, particularly the Ottawa Valley and the Kingston region, are real hotspots for ticks.
“In the Kingston region it’s so endemic that if you take your your dog to the veterinarian, then they will give your dog a vaccine for Lyme automatically just because the prevalence is so high,” Norris-Roozmon said.
The province and public health experts say its important for people to be vigilant when it comes to ticks, especially in hotspots, by covering their skin when they go outside, wearing closed-toe shoes and insect repellent and checking themselves and their pets for ticks.
What Norris-Roozmon is hoping to help achieve is a better way of testing and identifying tick-born illness in case of a tick bite.
“I think that the the best preventative care is always what’s best, what we strive for is to have early detection and early diagnosis. And unfortunately, if that is not the case, then, of course, your care may be more complicated,” she said.
To participate in the study, visit Norris-Roozmon’s website.
— With files from Global News’ Heather Yourex-West and Leslie Young.