Ontario urged to do more to diagnose, treat Lyme disease

A northern Ontario MPP says the province needs a revamp in how it approaches Lyme disease. He's once again calling on the Ontario government to review how it tests for the illness and bring in new measures to ensure patients are properly diagnosed.

Many Ontarians heading to U.S. for access to testing not available here, expert says

Debra Fraleigh, co-founder of the Ontario Lyme Allliance, says only 33 to 49 per cent of early-stage tests for Lyme disease are accurate. (Radio-Canada)

A northern Ontario politician is once again pushing the provincial government to change how it tests for Lyme disease.

New Democrat MPP Michael Mantha said the province needs a revamp in how it approaches the illness. He's calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne's government to review how it tests for the disease and bring in new measures to ensure patients are properly diagnosed one year after passing a bill that calls for a new action plan. 

Lyme disease is transmitted by two types of blacklegged ticks in Canada. The small arachnids bite and burrow into their targets, and if infected, will spread the disease to the person. Often times, the bites are painless and victims aren't aware they've been infected with the bacteria until it's too late. 

But current testing in the early stages may not be effective in properly identifying the illness. Debra Fraleigh, co-founder of the Ontario Lyme Allliance, a not-for-profit group aimed at increasing awareness and education of the disease, says only 33 to 49 per cent of early-stage tests are accurate because they only test for one strain of the bacteria. 

"There is no test that will tell you whether a person has Lyme disease or not," Fraleigh said. "All it can really do is let you know whether there's been exposure to the bacteria."

Fraleigh adds many people in Ontario are heading to the U.S. for access to testing not available here. According to Mantha, some doctors specializing in Lyme disease have moved south of the border. 

Algoma Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha says he receives emails and phone calls asking about the province's Lyme disease action plan. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)
"They are limited in their capacity in how the can treat the individuals," Mantha says. "Patients are being turned away and saying no, you don't have Lyme, you have X, Y, Z."

Last year, the NDP MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin passed a private member's bill for the government to put forth an action plan on the illness. On Monday, Mantha repeated calls for the province to do more in the fight against this disease. 

"So many people have been affected by this horrible disease, and so many more will be if we don't put this plan into action immediately," Mantha said.

"Every day I am receiving emails and phone calls from across the province asking for an update on this plan. Unfortunately, I do not have an update to provide."

Province to review, update approach

In response, Health Minister Eric Hoskins issued the following statement:

"Lyme disease is a serious problem. Our government believes that we need a strong, evidence-based strategy for Lyme disease. It's very important to me and that's why, not that long ago, we developed a provincial Lyme disease action plan."

Hoskins goes on to say the government is moving ahead with an action plan to "review and update of existing public awareness materials and guidance documents, including a review of testing, diagnosis and treatment protocols based on the latest evidence in science, prevention, and tick-surveillance protocols."

In 2014, the government of Canada reported 522 new cases of Lyme disease. That number is down from 2013 when 682 cases were identified but up significantly from the 315 reported in 2012. 

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