Nfld. & Labrador

Lyme disease diagnosis in 4-year-old Brigus girl could be 1st in N.L.

When four-year-old Kimmy Boland came inside from playing in her backyard last week, her grandmother was immediately concerned about a large bull's-eye rash on her arm.
Tasha Boland plays with her family near their home in Brigus. Her daughter, Kimmy, is suspected to have contracted Lyme disease while playing outdoors. (CBC)

When four-year-old Kimmy Boland came inside from playing in her backyard last week, her grandmother was immediately concerned about a large bull's-eye rash on her arm. 

"It was the same rash that I had experienced six years ago. So it was upsetting, to say the least," said Geraldine Boland, who herself was diagnosed with Lyme disease in Ontario in May after six years of visits to doctors and a rollercoaster ride of health problems. 

Kimmy Boland, 4, has been diagnosed with Lyme disease. (CBC)

"It's just a horrible disease," she said. 

"One week I may feel like I'm having a heart attack because it's doing whatever to my heart. The next week it could be like a gall bladder attack."

Kimmy, who was diagnosed last week, has the distinction of the being the first person believed to have contracted Lyme disease inside Newfoundland and Labrador. Until now, the tick-carried disease had never been contracted within the province, although some residents have contracted it elsewhere. Geraldine Boland is not sure whether she contracted the disease in N.L. or elsewhere. 

Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted to people by a bite from an infected blacklegged tick, is known for such early symptoms as a rash that expands from the site of the tick bite, and which can often look like a bull's-eye. 

If untreated, Lyme disease can cause severe joint pain, inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain, temporary paralysis of one side of the face and impaired muscle movement. It can also cause heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat, liver inflammation and severe fatigue. 

There are no permanent tick populations in Newfoundland and Labrador, but Hugh Whitney, the province's chief veterinary officer, said in a recent interview with CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show that more and more of the parasites are found each year. 

According to the Department of Health and Community Services, five cases of Lyme disease were reported between 1996 and 2015, all associated with travel outside Newfoundland and Labrador.

Geraldine Boland: 'It's just a horrible disease.' (CBC)

Knowing Lyme disease is far from a common illness in this province, Kimmy's mom, Tasha Boland, was apprehensive when she brought her to the Janeway children's hospital in St. John's. 

"I was afraid we weren't going to have a doctor that would recognize it and that we were going to have to fight like my mother did six years ago," she said. 

'A very characteristic rash'

Those fears though were quickly allayed when she spoke with Dr. Kevin Chan, the clinical chief of children's health at Eastern Health.

"So when I saw the rash, it's a very characteristic rash that I've seen numerous times before and it looked [like] classical Lyme disease," said Chan, who spent years working at Boston Children's Hospital, which deals with a lot of Lyme disease in northeast United States. 

Dr. Kevin Chan is the clinical chief of children's health at Eastern Health. (CBC)

Given the fact that Kimmy Boland has never left the province, hers is a unique case. 

"It would be the first case. It hasn't been confirmed yet. So, we've sent off a number of blood tests to try and confirm this," said Chan. 

Whether she has the Lyme disease or not, the fact that her mom and grandmother brought her to the hospital right away for treatment means she's going to be just fine. 

A matter of time

Chan says it was just a matter of time before a case of Lyme disease was contracted in the province. 

"We were waiting for the first human case to appear," he said. "And if it is, I think we need to increase awareness around this and get people checked out."

Tasha Boland feels the same as Chan about awareness. She feels parents can never be too cautious when it comes to checking their kids for tick bites. 

"Check your kids whenever they do come in. Make sure they don't have a tick embedded or on them anywhere," she said. 

"Because if this does come out and that child or that person doesn't see that bull's-eye rash, it's not going to be easy to diagnose."


Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist. He works primarily for the St. John's Morning Show, and contributes to television and digital programming.


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