Questions raised about Lyme disease treatment in Manitoba
Warmer temperatures and sunny skies have Manitobans looking ahead to spending time outside.
While Manitoba Health is reminding people to be proactive and protect and check themselves for ticks, a member of a Lyme disease advocacy group is questioning the testing done in Manitoba.
An East St. Paul family is awaiting lab results to determine if a black-legged tick found on their daughter’s head carried the Lyme disease bacteria.
Chantelle Harder said the discovery was made on Wednesday by her six-year-old daughter Cassia’s older sister.
“I got a call from big sister who said, ‘mom, there’s a spider growing out of Cassia’s head,’” said Harder. “I’ve pulled hundreds of ticks between my dogs and the kids and myself, and this one was unlike any one I’d ever seen.”
It was actually a neighbour who removed the tick from Cassia’s head.
Harder said when she got home later that night, she started researching to figure out if it was a black-legged tick that bit her daughter.
Harder took the tick to the entomology department at the University of Manitoba. It confirmed it was a deer tick.
The tick was then sent to Cadham Provincial Lab here in Winnipeg to find out if it carries the Lyme disease bacteria.
It can take up to four months to get those results, according to Manitoba Medical Officer of Health Dr. Richard Rusk.
Rusk advises seeing a doctor if symptoms of Lyme disease appear before the results come back.
“If there are symptoms, the first strategy is to actually treat,” said Rusk. “If you actually find a rash where it was, we rely heavily on the Erythema-Migrans rash; it’s kind of that bull’s-eye rash. We rely on that to help us with the diagnosis.”
Other than the bull’s-eye pattern rash, early symptoms include headache, flu-like symptoms or swollen lymph nodes.
Lyme disease is best treated in the early stages of infection with antibiotics, according to Manitoba Health.
Rusk said treatment isn’t necessary if there are no symptoms.
Cassia hasn’t shown any symptoms of Lyme disease, but her mom wasn’t going to take any chances.
She said she had to insist her doctor prescribe antibiotics for Cassia as they await the results of the test being done on the tick that bit her.
“I really had to advocate to make sure they put her on the Amoxicillin, because they didn’t want to put her on an antibiotic unnecessarily,” said Harder “ Which obviously we don’t want to do as parents, but we obviously don’t want our children to get a terrible disease.”
Harder got advice from her friend Marnie Le Page from Manitoba Lyme Disease, a support group for people living with the illness.
Le Page suspected her daughter had Lyme disease in 2015. She’s not sure when her daughter got the bite, and they never found the tick.
Tests done in Manitoba came back negative, so Le Page had Brooke’s blood sent to a lab called IGeneX in California. The results from that test showed Brooke actually does have Lyme disease, but those results aren’t accepted or recognized by health officials here in Manitoba.
Le Page said better testing is needed in Manitoba.
“Our testing here tests for very acute cases, and you’re very lucky if you get it,” said Le Page. “They have a two-tier test, and you have to test positive on both and it’s very difficult to get a positive diagnosis through our testing.”
“It’s very inadequate and it needs to be changed.”
Rusk said the tests done in Manitoba are the same tests performed across Canada and in the U.S.
“The first test will come back and that will advise whether there needs to be that second test,” said Rusk. “We have some very good infectious disease specialists here, excellent, and they are fully-versed in Lyme disease, so they know their stuff.”
Rusk said representatives from Manitoba Health will be attending a national conference to develop a federal framework on Lyme disease in May.
According to the federal government, the goal is “to develop a framework to help prevent and reduce Lyme disease-related health risks to Canadians.”
Last year in Manitoba there 10 confirmed cases of Lyme disease. There were 22 in 2014.
The number of reported cases of Lyme disease in Manitoba since 2009 can be viewed here.
Areas in Manitoba where blacklegged ticks have been identified and can be viewed here.