Updated Sun. Sep. 20 2009 10:00 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Canadian Lyme disease patients are calling for better doctor training and more accurate tests so sufferers can be diagnosed and treated quickly before their side effects become crippling and chronic.
At rallies across Canada this week, patients called for greater awareness of the disease within the medical community, and asked provincial governments to train doctors to recognize the disease.
“We have people on crutches, we have people that couldn’t come today because they are bedridden,” Lyme disease patient Gwen Barlee told CTV News at a rally in Vancouver. “Most people I know who have Lyme disease don’t have jobs anymore.”
More than 20,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed across North America every year.
The disease is contracted through the bite of an infected tick. Bacteria from the bite enter the bloodstream and can infect joints, the heart and even the brain.
Some experts believe that thousands more suffer for years without an accurate diagnosis. They say blood tests used in Canada are not as sophisticated as those used in the United States, and that few doctors are trained to recognize the symptoms.
Lyme disease can be cured early with antibiotics. However, it can lead to a lifetime of pain, disability and neurological problems if left untreated.
“Our treatment is very expensive, very prolonged and our prognosis is now uncertain,” said patient Rob Manten at a rally in Ontario. “I want to see things changed and I call on our government to assist us in making that happen.”
Their message echoed that of experts published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal earlier this year.
In their report, researchers said Lyme disease, which was largely unheard of in the 1980s, is now found across the country.
The tick that carries the Lyme-causing bacteria Ixodes scapularis is found in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, southern Quebec, southern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.
The tick that spreads the bacterium in the West, Ixodes pacificus, is now widespread in southern British Columbia.
The researchers called for better surveillance measures for ticks as they spread throughout Canada. They also called on public health officials to better inform the public and doctors about local risk levels, prevention and the need for early diagnosis.
“Current passive surveillance for tick vectors has identified new endemic areas, but additional methods are needed to precisely identify where Lyme disease is emerging in Canada,” they wrote.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip