More national round tables planned for Lyme disease awareness

A national, all-party round table on Lyme disease last week in Ottawa brought to light some of the issues people face with getting answers and suitable treatment for the disease.

All-party meeting held last week in Ottawa heightened awareness, says N.B. Southwest MP Karen Ludwig

Lyme disease sufferers Cecile Gough and Debbie McCann, and tick researcher Dr. Vett Lloyd, presented at a national round table on Lyme disease, co-chaired by NB Southwest MP Karen Ludwig. (Courtesy Karen Ludwig/Facebook)

A national, all-party round table on Lyme disease in Ottawa recently brought to light some of the issues people face with getting answers and suitable treatment for the disease.

New Brunswick Southwest MP Karen Ludwig co-chaired the meeting on May 30, attended by Lyme disease advocates and members of Parliament, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

"Health is not a partisan issue and Lyme disease is across the country. It's not just one particular party's issue, so it's important to raise the awareness," Ludwig told Information Morning Saint John on Friday.

A national round table heard about the costs, the health impacts, and problems with diagnosing Lyme disease. The campaign to raise awareness included the "Lyme Sucks" challenge. 7:05

"They heard the stories, many in their own areas, and they want to know what they can do when they get back home," she said.

Debbie McCann from Hoyt, and Cecile Gough from Guelph, Ont., talked about how Lyme disease impacted their lives.

Their experiences with struggling to be diagnosed and treated for the disease mirror those of countless Lyme disease sufferers across the country.

Their stories detailed confusion about their symptoms,"travelling to the United States, the costs they spent getting a diagnosis and receiving treatment there, and the impacts on their jobs," said Ludwig.

"Cecile was an oncology nurse and over the course of her disease she's lost her position, she lost dreams. She talked about that."

Push for stronger guidelines

Mount Allison University biologist Vett Lloyd talked about the spread of ticks infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and MPs shared the growing number of stories from constituents in their ridings.

"The important part is to look at this from a Canadian perspective. Most often it's looked at in terms of endemic areas, like southern New Brunswick is an endemic area for Lyme disease," said Ludwig.

"Many around the table are not in an identified area … Elizabeth May talked about the significance of climate change, and that we're seeing a lot more cases and should expect more."

Ludwig plans to launch another series of round tables when Parliament resumes in the fall.

She hopes they lead to stronger guidelines for medical professionals and a national database of confirmed Lyme disease cases across the country.

Lyme Sucks campaign

In the meantime, Ludwig is spreading awareness by participating in the Lyme Sucks challenge.

It involves declaring, "Lyme sucks" before sucking on a lime, posting a video of the challenge to social media and donating to the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation.

The entire Atlantic caucus has completed the challenge, she said.

"As MPs we have an opportunity to work on the education and awareness," said Ludwig. "It's fun and easy to do, but when it's posted on social media, it will attract more attention."

In 2015, there were more than 700 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada. In 2009, there were 128 cases.

Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's acting chief medical officer of health, says the province is seeing an average of four cases each year.

Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. In Canada, it's transmitted by two species of ticks that suck on the blood of humans and other animals. Ticks look like small, flat watermelon seeds.

With files from Information Morning Saint John