Quebec's wildlife protection agents are asking the government to officially recognize Lyme disease as a workplace health hazard.

They say that under current rules, agents who get the disease have to fight with the Workplace Health and Safety Board for access to compensation or care.

The number of diagnosed cases of Lyme disease has been consistently rising in Quebec since it was first recognized in 2006.

"We have to be careful when we go out — wear long clothing and insect repellent," said Dr. Geneviève Barron, a professor at Université de Sherbrooke, who works with health officials in the Eastern Townships.

Barron says the responsibility shouldn't be on the backs of workers if they get the disease.


Quebec wildlife agents can become infected with lyme disease after handling animals with ticks. (AFP/Getty Images)

But the agents aren't just at risk from the tall grass or shrubs they may have to walk through. They can also be exposed when handling sick or injured animals, some of which carry ticks.

Lyme disease is spread to humans through bites by ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, with symptoms occurring between three and 30 days after a bite. 

Nicolas Roy, the president of the wildlife protection agents union, says agents want the disease to be recognized as an occupational disease by the government. 

"What we want is real recognition," Roy said.

He said agents don't always immediately notice if they are bitten, and that makes it difficult for them to have access to benefits that could help catch the disease early.

Quebec's ministry of forests, wildlife and parks did not return a request for comment.

With files from Claude Rivest