About Lyme Disease in Canada

Kids lying in field

Lyme disease is a complex multi-system inflammatory illness caused by the bite of a tick infected with one of several closely related species of Borrelia bacteria. Borrelia burgdorferi is the primary agent of Lyme disease in North America and traditionally gets the sole blame as its causative agent, but in recent years research has shown that several species of Lyme-related Borrelia bacteria exist on this continent, which likely also play a role.

The symptoms of Lyme disease are wide-ranging and highly variable. The symptoms a patient develops depends on many factors, including the type of Borrelia bacteria they are infected with, the co-infecting organisms they contract alongside Lyme (if any), and their own individual immune response to the infection.

Lyme disease is relatively new to Canada. The first breeding colony of infected ticks was found at Long Point, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie back in the early 1990s. Since that time, many more breeding colonies have been found throughout southern Canada, with hotspots in the southern regions of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

Every year, more and more Lyme endemic regions are being added to the map and by 2020 most Canadians will be living in areas with Lyme infected ticks. Additionally, ticks are being carried into Canada by birds in massive numbers during spring and fall migrations from three distinct populations in the United States: The Northeast (whose ticks wind up in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes), the Midwest (whose ticks wind up in the Prairie provinces), and California (whose ticks wind up in British Columbia).

Locally contracted cases of Lyme disease have now been reported in every province and yet knowledge of Lyme disease remains low amongst Canadians.

When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2007, I did not know I was living in a Lyme endemic region, I could not have named a single symptom of Lyme, and I was shocked when I was told what was wrong with me. I wasn't alone in my ignorance. I've travelled the country talking to Canadians about Lyme disease and most people living in Lyme endemic areas do not know it. Worse, most Canadians I meet believe that you have to visit the wilderness in order to contract Lyme when you are just as likely to contract it in a major urban area.

Our collective knowledge needs to improve. All projections suggest that Lyme disease is not only here to stay, but that it will rapidly increase over the coming decades. The more that Canadians know about it, the greater the chances that they will avoid having a run-in with it.