Lyme disease in PEI
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected blacklegged (deer) tick (Ixodes scaplularis). Ticks attach to the skin and feed on blood. A tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that can cause Lyme disease can only transmit the disease after filling itself with blood, which takes at least 24-36 hours.
How can I protect myself from Lyme disease?
There is a risk of encountering ticks in PEI. The following measures should be taken to prevent being bitten by a tick:
- Cover up if there is a possibility of exposure to ticks in the area. Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants with the legs tucked into socks. Wear light-coloured clothing.
- Insect repellents that contain DEET (concentration between 20-30%) or Icaridin are recommended. Repellents can be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin.
- Daily “full body” checks for ticks should be performed. Ticks attach themselves to the skin so finding and removing them early (within 24 hours) prevents infection. Children and pets should be checked for ticks as well.
What should I do if I find a tick attached to me?
Removing ticks within 24-36 hours after the tick bite usually prevents infection. If a tick is removed from a human and is intact, it can be submitted by the person to any of the hospitals across the Island to be sent to the provincial lab for identification. A health care provider does not need to be involved in the submission of this tick. Bags and requisitions will be available at the labs. If the tick is identified as a blacklegged (deer) tick it will be sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg to determine if the tick is positive for Borrelia burgdorferi. The test results will be confirmed in 6 to 8 weeks and your primary care provider, or if unavailable, the lab will contact you if the tick tested positive.
What is the risk of encountering a tick infected with Lyme disease in PEI?
PEI is considered a low risk area for Lyme disease. Of the ticks that can be found on PEI, only the blacklegged tick (I. scapularis) can carry the Lyme disease causing bacterium, B. burgdorferi. Since 2016, 131 ticks that were acquired both on and off island were submitted to the provincial lab: 86 were blacklegged deer ticks, and 9 tested positive for B. burgdorferi. All ticks identified as blacklegged deer ticks are also tested for Anaplasma phagocytophilum. There were no cases of Anaplasma noted in the submitted ticks.
How prevalent is Lyme disease in PEI?
Since 2012, the combined number of probable and lab confirmed cases of Lyme disease in PEI has ranged from 0 to 4 cases per year. PEI’s first case of lab confirmed Lyme disease without travel outside of PEI was diagnosed in 2012, and there has not been a lab confirmed case since that time without recent history of travel to an area of moderate to high risk. In 2018 there was one (1) probable Lyme case, likely travel-related.
What other diseases can ticks carry?
Along with Lyme disease, I. scapularis (the blacklegged deer tick), can transmit a number of rare diseases, including Anaplasma phagocytophilum (the bacterial causal agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis), Babesia microti (the protozoan causal agent of human babesiosis) and Powassan encephalitis virus. These bacteria and viruses have been found infrequently in ticks and can be prevented by following the same prevention measures as described above for Lyme disease.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Physicians in Prince Edward Island are required to follow national and provincial guidelines for the antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease. Patients are encouraged to discuss any questions or concerns about Lyme disease with their health care provider. Individuals with ongoing symptoms that have been attributed to Lyme disease based on alternative serologic criteria or clinical criteria alone experience very real and sometimes debilitating symptoms. However, the cause of these symptoms is often not clear. The Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada does not support the prolonged use of antibiotics for the treatment of Lyme disease; in fact, evidence supports that taking antibiotics long term increases the risk of developing serious bowel infections (such as from C. difficile), allergic reactions, and infections from antibiotic resistant bacteria.
What should I do if I think I have Lyme disease?
If you have been in a grassy or wooded area and have symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches and/or a rash (particularly a bulls-eye shaped rash), you should seek medical attention.
What is being done to learn more about Lyme disease?
The Government of Canada is taking a national leadership role in the prevention and control of Lyme disease in Canada. PEI’s Chief Public Health Office is supporting and following the federal government’s National Action Plan on Lyme disease that commits to an evidence-based approach to research and treatment of Lyme disease. All partners, including provincial and territorial health care regulatory authorities, will be consulted on innovative, evidence-based approaches to address the needs of patients. The Action Plan includes the establishment of a research network on Lyme disease and will be reviewed within five years of its publication. Any updates on the Action Plan can be found on Canada.ca website.