Improve Access to Effective Lyme Disease Treatment in PEI

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Recent evidence from a 2017 scientific study conducted by Dr. Vett Lloyd of Mt Allison University found over 350 black-legged “deer” ticks in every county across PEI, confirming that tick-borne disease is a real threat to Islanders’ health and wellbeing. That same study revealed that 10% of these ticks were infected with Lyme disease, which is a serious debilitating infectious disease.

Other recent studies by the CDC in the US have revealed that current blood tests being used to test for Lyme are very insensitive, and miss over 50% of truly diseased cases. This realization led the CDC to increase its current US estimate of Lyme incidence 10-fold from 30,000 to 350,000 cases. This suggests that the current disease burden of Lyme disease is considerably under-estimated by the few officially reported Lyme cases to date in PEI. They are simply the tip of a much larger iceberg.

The incidence of Lyme in PEI is partly driven by the large number of ticks which arrive each spring on birds migrating North through New England. As a result of climate change, tick populations are exploding and moving further North by about 8km per year. Over the past decade, the incidence of Lyme in Maine has doubled, and the presence of Lyme in neighbouring Maritime provinces has also risen sharply.

Meanwhile, awareness about the threat of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases among Island physicians has remained low, and some patients have been forced to go to the US in order to access effective care. Canadian physicians are sometimes reluctant to provide the necessary doses of antibiotics for treating Lyme, beyond the initial 3 week acute phase, for fear of running afoul of current (obsolete) clinical guidelines.  They may face disciplinary sanctions, or even the loss of their medical licence.

We, the undersigned, request that PEI Health authorities revise current public health messaging to inform local physicians and the public at large about the real dangers of Lyme disease. We also request that legislators review the approach adopted in Maine to enable effective care for Lyme patients, namely, passing “An Act to Improve Access to Treatments for Lyme Disease” (HP0289, LD422 Item1).