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Experts, activists attempt to bridge divide on Lyme disease rates in Canada
Provided by: Canadian Press
Written by: HELEN BRANSWELL
Mar. 9, 2006



TORONTO (CP) - Experts and activists are attempting to bridge the divide on the controversial issue of Lyme disease diagnosis and prevalence in Canada.

A two-day meeting, which concluded Thursday, looked at issues related to how widespread the ticks which carry the disease are, how best to diagnose suspected cases and how to assess the rate of infection in this country.

While work will continue on some of the more contentious questions, the scientist leading the discussion said it was important to get a start on new guidelines. The current Canadian guidelines on diagnosing and treating the disease were drawn up in 1991.

"That's 15 years ago and there's no question there's so much new information about Lyme disease," said Dr. Harvey Artsob, chief of the division of zoonoses and special pathogens for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"We just had to have the meeting. It's long overdue to update those guidelines."

Jim Wilson agreed. And the president of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation was at peace with the idea that the meeting wouldn't answer all the issues his group has been advocating for, such as adopting diagnostics that appear to produce more positive tests.

"We're just glad we've been invited, that we are being given a voice in what's going to determine the future health of those who we represent," said Wilson, who suffered with the disease's debilitating symptoms for 3 1/2 years before being diagnosed and treated in the mid-1990s.

One area of agreement relates to the distribution of the blacklegged ticks that can carry the bacterium which causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi.

Those who say the disease is under-diagnosed in Canada argue infected ticks can be picked up in many parts of the country beyond the agreed-upon hot zones of Southern Ontario, southern British Columbia and in Lunenburg County, N.S.

Artsob said that while infected colonies are established in those areas - and perhaps in southeastern Manitoba - infected ticks can drop from passing birds in almost any part of the country. Ticks submitted to the National Microbiology Laboratory by veterinarians across the country are tested for the bacteria; those tests have shown there is a risk of infection outside the hot zones.

"We've shown there is a theoretical possibility that Canadians can get infected and have Lyme disease basically across Canada," Artsob said.
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