Lyme disease in Canada: What we do and don’t know

Noah Bergstrom & Laura Johnston / April 11, 2019

Lyme disease was first identified by scientists in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, but the tick-borne bacteria that causes the disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, wasn’t officially classified until 1981.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Lyme is the most common tick-borne disease in North America. Lyme is also known as one of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases, having left doctors questioning symptoms for decades.

In British Columbia, the two types of ticks carrying the disease are known as deer ticks, and Western black-legged ticks, although less than one per cent of ticks tested carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Ticks tend to prefer to bite different kinds of animals, commonly latching onto rodents and small animals.

The ticks like to feed on blood, and this is how the bacteria gets into blood streams when they bite humans.

The chance of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite is slim, but if left untreated, the disease can have a major effect on a patient’s life.

The most common symptoms of  Lyme disease are bouts of arthritis, joint pain and swelling, chronic neurological issues, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, fatigue, fever, paralysis, and short-term memory loss.

Ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and very difficult to see.

They typically live in tall grass and forested areas, where people and animals brush up against the them, allowing the ticks to attach themselves as they pass by.

Ticks will burrow themselves halfway into the skin, biting in and drawing blood to fill themselves up.

When the ticks are feeding, they become engorged and a blue-grey colour, making them easier to notice.

Once you spot a tick, the BC CDC advises that either you, someone else, or a doctor take steps to remove it carefully.

Using tweezers to make sure you remove all the parts of a tick is advised.
(BC Centre for Disease Control)

Squeezing a tick could make it explode and could expose potentially harmful bacteria. The BC Centre for Disease Control recommends steadily lifting the tick straight off the skin, making sure the entire tick is removed.

After removal, the tick can be saved for testing and sent to the BC Public Health Lab if a doctor recommends it, and the site of the wound should be cleaned and disinfected.