Editorial: The truth of Lyme disease is hard to take

Despite being declared a world epidemic by the World Health Organization, Lyme disease has continued to be an enigma of an illness in Canada

It came as a shock to a lot of Canadians when the news broke last week that Canadian pop mega-star Avril Lavigne has been suffering from Lyme disease to the point where she couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, and was bedridden for five months.

Despite being declared a world epidemic in 2008 by the World Health Organization, Lyme disease has continued to be an enigma of an illness in Canada, difficult to diagnose for Lyme-illiterate doctors, and even more difficult to treat when internationally validated testing is notoriously discouraged by Health Canada. Yet more and more Canadians are being diagnosed each year, and are having to seek treatment outside the country in the U.S., Europe and India.

According to the co-author of Ending Denial – The Lyme Disease Epidemic: A Canadian Public Health Disaster (2010), “Canadian veterinary schools teach Lyme diagnosis and treatment in animals correctly, so increasing numbers of Lyme patients are being treated under the file names of their dogs.”

Recognizing this growing problem, Green Party leader Elizabeth May last June called on the federal government to hold a conference of provincial and territorial health ministers, along with medical experts, to develop a national strategy to deal with the disease. Her private members bill, Bill C-422, received support from all political parties and is the first Green Party bill to become law.  While sad that 30-year-old Lavigne experienced such a debilitating illness, the good thing is that she, being such a high profile figure, will help get the message across to the public — and hopefully to doctors who continue to deny its existence — that chronic Lyme does in fact exist.

The Interior Health tick warning (see story Early spring weather brings out ticks carrying disease) states less than one percent of B.C. ticks carry Lyme, but does this take into account transference via birds, travel, etc.? Even better than assurances that the percentage of Lyme-infected ticks in B.C. is negligible is knowing that the Canadian medical system is ready,  able and willing to help if and when an infection does occur.