Nova Scotia

Why Lunenburg County residents want to 'up the priority' on a Lyme disease vaccine

The provincial government and medical community are being urged to seek a vaccine for Lyme disease as the number of cases increases.

Spread of tiny ticks could pose economic problems for Nova Scotia, say South Shore residents

In Eastern Canada, the only vector of Lyme disease is the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

There's trouble in Paddy Lounsbury's paradise.

The Nova Scotia woman lives on a picturesque property just outside Mahone Bay that's surrounded by forest and has a view of the ocean. What worries her these days is what she can't see crawling in the grass and waiting in her pine trees.

Blacklegged ticks, which can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, are spreading across Nova Scotia. According to the Department of Health and Wellness, the number of reported cases more than doubled from 2014 to 2015. And as a resident of a higher risk area, Lounsbury says the tiny critters could soon have big implications for the province's economy.

"I think unless the authorities take action, we may be getting a reputation like Lyme, Conn., which gave its name to the disease," said Lounsbury.

"People who are thinking of moving here or starting a business here, which we really need to keep our economy alive, might just think twice."

Cases on the rise 

There were 254 reported cases of Lyme disease in 2015, up from 115 in 2014, according to the health department's website. The numbers for 2016 have not yet been released.

Lounsbury doesn't have Lyme disease, but she said she knows people who do. The anecdotal stories that get passed around in small South Shore communities feed into "a paranoia," she said, especially because there's little consensus on how best to prevent and treat the disease.

That's why Lounsbury wants the government to invest in research for a vaccine — right now there's only one for pets — and to better educate both residents and tourists about the risks they face here.

Nervous about outdoors 

Jim Rosbe lives just down the road from Lounsbury. He agrees the provincial government and medical community need to "up the priority on this" but in the meantime, he's not taking any chances.

Jim Rosbe says he spent over $270 on Insect Shield clothing from the United States, and estimates he'll likely need similar clothing for his grandchildren. (Emma Smith/CBC)

He's been treated for Lyme disease twice, and last fall spent more than $270 on Permethrin-drenched clothing from a company in the United States.

"It's expensive, but it's expensive to be sick too," he said.

"It also makes me nervous bringing grandchildren and having kids around. We have to watch like a hawk and I figure we'll have to get clothing for them, too, if they're going to be out running around."

Jim Rosbe, of Indian Point, N.S., wears his tick-preventative clothing whenever he spends time outdoors. (Emma Smith/CBC)

'It was terrible'

Lisa Ali's 12-year-old son Darian contracted Lyme last spring, but he didn't show any symptoms. There was no telltale bull's-eye rash. Then, in September, his joints started to swell.

"It got to the point though where he had Lyme arthritis and he couldn't move his legs at all. It was terrible," said Ali.

Before Lisa Ali's son Darian contracted Lyme disease last spring, she'd never really thought about the risks of living on the South Shore. (Submitted by Lisa Ali)

That's when she became "obsessively aware of Lyme disease and ticks" — an obsession that's become part of her role with the Mahone Bay and Area Tourism and Chamber of Commerce. She's also started her own company that makes tick-bite preventive sprays. 

As a board member, she's working to educate tourists on what to watch out for so they don't have to find out the hard way like she did.

'Welcome to Lyme, don't get bitten'

The town of Lyme, Conn., doesn't need to do much advertising about the risks of the disease — it's right there in the name.

For Ralph Eno, a municipal councillor in Lyme, decades of dealing with the disease has given him "a perverted sense of humour about it."

"It keeps large-scale residential development away from us," he said, chuckling. "Welcome to Lyme, don't get bitten."

Eno says by now, residents simply know how to cope.

"I just don't believe that we've been making significant headway, other than the fact that every time you turn around there seems to be a new tick-borne disease out there," he said.

Bad for business

As a resident of Lunenburg, Shelah Allen has dealt with ticks for years, as have her cats. But she's worried about the impact of linking Lunenburg to Lyme.

"Look what SARS did to Toronto, look what SARS did to all of Canada," she said.

Shelah Allen, owner of Lunenburg Walking Tours, says Lyme disease isn't a concern for the tourists she meets. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Allen, who is the co-owner of Lunenburg Walking Tours, said she's never had a tourist ask about Lyme or ticks. While she walks outside most days in the summer, it's not often in tall grass or wooded areas where ticks are most prevalent. 

And it's not just a problem for the South Shore. According to a map released by the Department of Health and Wellness in January, six counties are considered to be at a higher risk for Lyme disease. Six more are moderate, and six are considered lower risk.

"I know somebody who moved from this area to another area to get away from it, and yet now where they live, ticks have arrived," said Allen.

With files from CBC's Information Morning