The province says ticks that carry Lyme disease are setting up shop in Alberta and want Albertans to send in ticks they come across as part of a new program aimed at finding out just how many of the bugs are here and how to deal with the bacteria they carry.
Health officials recently discovered a species of ticks called Ixodes Scapularis. These ticks are known to carry Lyme disease and may become widespread in the province.
“What we’re concerned about is a new tick that’s slowly showing up in Alberta,” said Dr. Martin Lavoie, with Alberta Health Services.
“It’s a tick that can carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease.”
To address those concerns, Alberta Health Services has launched a new tick surveillance program and for the first time, are encouraging Albertans to submit ticks.
“We’ve found a few of those ticks in the past couple of years. We’ve identified about 41 ticks that were positive for the bacteria and about 226 ticks that could carry the bacteria,” Lavoie said.
“We’re sending the ticks to somebody that can actually identify, that can tell them apart, so they can identify the type of tick they’re seeing and if this is one that can carry the bacteria”
Lyme disease in humans can cause rashes and lead to stiff joints, abnormal heartbeats, nervous system disorders, arthritis, numbness and paralysis.
Ticks can travel on birds and animals and can be found in grassy or wooded areas.
Ledean Moysey believes she was bit by a tick in such an area in 1996.
“We like to camp, we like to fish and hike and all those things,” she said. “We have dogs, we’ve always had dogs so the chances it came in one of those places is pretty good.”
For more than a dozen years, Moysey has had headaches, vision problems, heart problems, and joint pain. It wasn’t until years after living through the pain that Moysey was diagnosed with Lyme disease.
“I have seen more doctors than I can even remember. I was sent to so many psychologists and psychiatrists because they thought it was in my head,” Moysey said.
“We’ve spent more time in doctors’ offices than I care to admit.”
'It's only a matter of time'
A blood test done in Alberta came up negative for Lyme disease but positive after it was retested in the United States.
“That’s when I finally found out I had Lyme disease and that’s when I started getting treatments,” Moysey said.
She hopes the new program will better identify the state of Lyme disease in Alberta.
“I think it’s a good first step,” Moysey said.
“I think knowledge is power, they need to acknowledge that it’s here.”
Moysey hopes the surveillance program leads to better training and public information.
She wants more doctors to become educated about the disease, so it doesn’t take years for someone else who may have it, to get answers and to get help.
“This is a possibility no matter what the risk rate is. They say it’s low, very rare,” Moysey said.
“I don’t think every case is reported. Mine wasn’t. I think we need to get true numbers on how many people are living with this, at what level they’re living with this and our medical professionals need to be trained on what to do in those cases. We need to get better testing here.”
Lavoie says the new program will help ensure health officials have a good handle on the tick situation before it gets out of hand.
“We know it's only a matter of time before we see this tick becoming endemic to Alberta,” he said.
“When it starts showing up more and when it starts showing signs of being established in Alberta, we will know and then we will be better able to assess the risk to Albertans.”
With files from Carmen Leibel