“Lyme Disease is not uncommon in Canada. The only thing uncommon in Canada about Lyme Disease is a positive diagnosis.”
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Lyme disease is the fastest spreading disease in the United States and, over the past decade, the tick that carries Lyme has been spreading across Canada at an alarming rate. More than 30,000 cases are reported in the USA every year, but the real number could be as high as 300,000, most of which occur within 400 miles of the Canadian border. And despite hard evidence that the Lyme-carrying deer tick has already established in populations across Canada, patients here are still being told that they cannot contract Lyme in this country.
Let’s learn the stats
Although recent Canadian statistics are not available, these stats have recently been released from local health departments highlighting the increasing prevalence of tick-borne diseases: in Hamilton-Wentworth, 41% of black legged ticks recently studied were infected with Borrelia burgdorferi; and in Hastings-Prince Edward County, 30% of ticks were found to carry the Lyme Disease bacteria. Canadian scientists predict that by the year 2020, 80% of the population in Eastern Canada (including Manitoba) will be living in a tick-populated area.
What causes Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The most well-known method of transmission is via a tick bite, but there are lesser-known methods of transmission, including but not limited to: sexual transmission, from a mother to her unborn child, breastfeeding, blood and blood products, and via bites from fleas, mosquitoes and spiders.
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Patients with Lyme Disease report a wide array of symptoms such as joint aches and pains, headaches, chronic fatigue, memory issues, ringing in the ears, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, hormonal imbalances, loss of mobility, vertigo, and more.
Doctors agree that if caught early, Lyme disease can be cured with two to four weeks of antibiotics in a number of cases. However, if not caught early, the infection can develop into a debilitating condition called Chronic Lyme.
Unlike West Nile, Encephalitis or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) where the medical profession and scientists have joined forces to find better treatments or a cure, many patients who have chronic Lyme are being denied treatment in Canada and left to suffer. Many patients are being misdiagnosed with conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and many other conditions.
Lyme Disease in children and youth
“Children are at highest risk for Lyme Disease where up to 60% will develop chronic symptoms which may impede them from achieving their genetic potential.” – Dr. Elena Frid
Children with Lyme disease have special issues. Since they can’t always explain what feels wrong, they may just come across as cranky and irritable. They suffer when their bodies hurt, when their illness disrupts their sleep at night, when they struggle in school, or when they don’t even feel like playing. They may feel confused, lost and betrayed by parents and teachers who fail to recognize that they are sick and need help. Mothers and fathers may not understand what the child’s normal baseline is. Is this the “terrible twos” or “the nine-year-old change” or is something really wrong?
Because the symptoms of Lyme disease can be non-specific, vague and changeable, adults may not even realize these children are ill. They may suspect them of making things up to gain attention or to avoid school. Children with Lyme often have trouble in the classroom because the disease can contribute to learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
Children are especially vulnerable to tick-borne diseases because they are physically low to the ground, where the ticks reside. They play in leaves, roll on grass, cuddle with pets and otherwise increase their exposure to ticks.
Lyme pediatric specialist Charles Ray Jones, Medical Doctor, compiled a list of common symptoms of infection in his young patients:
- severe fatigue unrelieved by rest
- nausea, abdominal pain
- impaired concentration
- poor short-term memory
- inability to sustain attention
- difficulty thinking and expressing thoughts
- difficulty reading and writing
- being overwhelmed by schoolwork
- difficulty making decisions
- uncharacteristic behavior
- outbursts and mood swings
- joint pain
- noise and light sensitivity
Among Dr. Jones’ patients, only half have had a known tick attachment. Fewer than 10% have had an erythema migrans rash (bull’s-eye). Dr. Jones has also documented congenital or gestational Lyme disease in some children he thinks were infected in utero or by breastfeeding. In these patients his suspicion is raised when the child has:
- frequent fevers
- increased incidence of ear and throat infections
- increased incidence of pneumonia
- joint and body pain
- poor muscle tone
- gastroesophageal reflux
- small windpipe (tracheomalacia)
- cataracts and other eye problems
- developmental delay
- learning disabilities
- psychiatric manifestations
Lyme Disease is preventable. By taking the right precautions and spreading the word, you can effectively protect your family from Lyme. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid tick-infested areas whenever possible, particularly in the spring and early summer when nymph (baby) ticks feed. Adult ticks are a bigger threat in the fall. Ticks favor moist, shaded environments, especially leafy wooded areas, overgrown grassy habitats and backyards that are overgrown!
Top 5 tick habitat precautions
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ticks from getting inside your pants.
- Check your clothes for ticks often. Ticks will climb upwards until they find an area of exposed skin.
- Wear light colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks.
- Stay in the middle of pathways or trails whenever possible when walking or hiking. Avoid low-lying brush or long grass.
- Apply insect repellent or a natural repellant to your skin and clothing, especially at the openings such as the ankle, wrist and neck.
Although commonly found in wooded areas, ticks can be found pretty well anywhere because they are carried by the birds, mice, deer and other animals they feed on.
Safe Tick Removal
If you find an attached tick, remove the tick as completely and as quickly as possible. One good thing is that, unlike mosquitoes (which can attach and begin feeding within seconds of landing on you), ticks take much more time to crawl to a suitable spot on your body, bite into your skin, secrete a ‘cement’ that secures them in place, and begin feeding/salivation.
The sooner you remove the tick, the greater the chance of preventing infection. This is one reason why checking over your body carefully at the end of a long walk in the woods, then showering using a facecloth and back scrubber to scrub the body is usually sufficient to avoid infection, even if the tick has already attached. Ticks can be brushed off easily if not yet fully attached.
The following tick removal methods are NOT recommended:
- Burning the tick off with a match or cigarette lighter.
- “Suffocating” the tick with petroleum jelly or hot oil.
- Gripping the tick with thumb and forefinger and tugging at it.
Safe Tick Removal Methods
If you already have a pair of fine pointed tweezers and a steady hand, you can grasp the mouth-parts of the tick, NOT the body of the tick, and slowly pull the tick straight out.
Remember that the skin may be swollen around the site of the tick attachment. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, you may prefer to use a specially designed tool.
Method 2: Straw and Knot
The ‘straw and knot’ method is an elegant, easy, effective, low technology tick removal method.
Camping and hiking are high-risk activities for encountering ticks, so remember to pack a straw and thread (or thin dental floss) next time you head into the woods.
1. Place an ordinary drinking straw at a 45-degree angle over the tick. (The straw is simply being used as a guide to direct the knot).
2. Take a length of thread (or dental floss) and tie a loose knot at the top or midsection of the straw.
3. Slide your knot down the straw to where the tick is attached.
4. Position the knot underneath the tick’s belly, so that the knot will encircle the embedded mouthparts only.
5. Slowly tighten the knot to close snugly around the mouthparts of the tick.
6. Remove the straw and pull the thread in a steady upward motion.
7. This will cause the tick to detach, but should inhibit regurgitation of bacteria that may be in the midgut.
Method 3: Intradermal Blister
If you’re close to a doctor’s office:
1. A doctor can inject Xylocaine into the skin below where the tick has attached.
2. A large Xylocaine-filled blister will form.
3. After tasting the Xylocaine, the tick should release its grip and back out on its own in order to search for a ‘better-tasting’ host.
After a tick has been removed, it’s important to wash the bite site using soap and water, followed with an antiseptic. Over-the-counter antiseptic medications are available at any pharmacy. If the tick that bit you is a Lyme-carrying species, don’t wait to develop symptoms. Go to your doctor and request antibiotics as a precaution.
How Back to Health Wellness Centre practitioners can help Lyme Disease patients
At Back to Health Wellness Centre, we recognize that Lyme Disease is a rapidly growing and potentially debilitating chronic health condition. Our staff are well versed in the many components of Lyme Disease and we offer several services to help in treatment.
Lymphatic drainage massage
Lymphatic drainage is not like a regular deep tissue massage, which may actually make symptoms worse and can cause more inflammation for a person with Lyme disease. Rather, lymphatic drainage massage does many tasks at once: reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, removing toxins that may have built up in the body, and creating a feeling of overall relief and relaxation. It does this by moving fluid manually to take extra strain off of areas that excess inflammation may be causing.
Massage therapists are trained to notice changes in swelling, lymphatic pressure, and how your body is responding overall. By checking lymph nodes from head to toe, they help to assist lymphatic flow back to the heart. For Lyme Disease patients, they may also check the diaphragm, digestive system and liver to ensure that no extra swelling or blockages have remained stagnant.
In cases such as Lyme’s disease, often treatments of lymphatic drainage massage can help to decrease pain, decrease overall inflammation, allow more joint mobility, and give a needed helping hand to an immune system that is already working overtime. Over the long term, it can especially help when flare-ups occur.
Much like rheumatoid arthritis, people who suffer from Lyme disease have flare-up periods when symptoms reach a breaking point. This may include extreme joint swelling and pain causing reduced mobility, mucus membranes like those of the eyes and ears becoming inflamed, energy levels even more decreased than before, and an overall feeling of fatigue and malaise. Lymphatic drainage massage can be a great natural booster in these flare-up periods and can help the body’s immune system to move these symptoms along more quickly. It can also help to flush out the dead bacteria that the body has tried to eliminate.
Another thing to keep in mind is that usual treatments of antibiotics may cause even further inflammation and can lower the immune system even more. Creating a long-term treatment plan with your massage therapist is a great idea when going through different medical treatments. Discuss with your health care provider or massage therapist what treatment options would be best for you when incorporating lymphatic drainage massage into your treatment plan.
Common side effects after a lymphatic massage include: feeling lighter, temperature changes, feeling thirsty, having to use the restroom, pressure or tension decreasing, decrease of pain, and an overall feeling of relaxation. Another thing to be aware of with lymphatic drainage massage is that it boosts the immune system; if a person is starting a cold or a flare up, this will speed up the process. Some have mentioned symptoms temporarily getting worse after the treatment, but a quick recovery will follow.
A common symptom among people living with Lyme Disease is joint pain and swelling. Joint swelling can cause or may be the result of restrictions in the joints. Chiropractic is an amazing treatment to help alleviate these symptoms through treating these joint restrictions, aligning joints and allowing the inflammation and swelling to decrease.
Cranial Adjusting Turner Style (CATS)
Another common symptom for people living with Lyme Disease is headaches. The CATS treatment is another very beneficial treatment to alleviate headaches. By placing the cranial bones back in alignment, swelling and pressure to the head is decreased, relieving headaches, jaw problems, foggy brain, fatigue and numerous other symptoms.
Links to Lyme Disease Documentaries:
Link to Under Our Skin Documentary:
Ticked Off, The Mystery of Lyme Disease in Canada:
Links to Lyme Disease Information Websites:
Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation:
International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society:
Lyme Disease Society of Canada:
Team Ottawa Lyme Fighters:
Ottawa Lyme Disease Support Group:
Voices of Canadians About Lyme Disease (VOCAL):
Lyme OHOH Canada: