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Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the federal government needs to develop a national strategy to combat Lyme disease that includes ways to improve prevention and diagnosis of the disease.
The British Columbia MP's comments come on the heels of several people speaking out about the presence of Lyme disease in the Fredericton area.
May introduced a private member’s bill in June that calls on federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to hold a conference to draft a national plan for dealing with Lyme disease.
May said the disease is becoming more common in Canada and the federal government needs to craft a cohesive strategy to address it.
“The scope of the problem is number one, that more people are getting Lyme disease than the medical community has expected,” May said.
“A lot of doctors still operate under the assumption that this disease is very, very rare — that's no longer the case. And we also have the problem that it's hard to diagnose.”
May said the national strategy would help various health districts across the country share their experiences on dealing with the disease.
“We're looking at putting together a strategy to deal with the need for better awareness, for prevention, the need for better tools for diagnosis and of course, the need for better tools for treatment,” she said.
The state of Maine recently issued warnings for residents there to take precautions because of an increase in ticks carrying Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by the bite of two species of ticks: blacklegged ticks, which are also called deer ticks, and western blacklegged ticks.
The first sign a person who has contracted Lyme disease may have is a circular rash surrounding the spot where the bite happened.
The rash normally appears between three and 30 days after the bite. The rash may be followed by symptoms like fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.
If left untreated, the disease can progress to a second phase, which can last several months. Symptoms in the second phase include migraines, weakness, multiple skin rashes, painful or stiff joints, abnormal heartbeat and extreme fatigue.
Another Fredericton-area resident has come forward to talk about Lyme disease being in the area.
Brian McEwing told CBC News he was bitten by an infected tick last fall at the University of New Brunswick's woodlot.
McEwing said he was wearing a wool sweater and a fleece jacket while geocaching, but a tick still managed to burrow into his arm.
He removed the tick and it tested positive for Lyme disease.
"I did have some anxiety for a while, but I knew I'd caught it early," said McEwing, whose doctor gave him antibiotics.
"I was comfortable with the treatment I received and, like I say, so far, everything's fine."
McEwing said there have been at least four cases among members of the congregation at his church.
Public health officials say they have been no confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the Fredericton area in the past five years.
A Fredericton-area woman said in an interview on Friday that it's time for the New Brunswick government to take Lyme disease more seriously.
Lorraine Bird, a resident of Charters Settlement, said she spent six years trying to get a proper diagnosis of why she was suffering numbness in her face and constant fatigue.
She said doctors kept telling her she was sick but they didn't know how to treat her.
“So it's very complex and it mimics a lot of other diseases and it's very frustrating for people,” she said.
“We need to have that reviewed. That's the bottom line. If our testing was more intricate or different, it would certainly help more people.”
Bird eventually had her blood sent to California for testing and a doctor in Maine began treating her with antibiotics.