Transforming research in Lyme disease
In the last few years, Canada has witnessed a surge in cases of Lyme disease. “In 2015, there were 700 new cases of Lyme disease reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), up from 140 cases in 2009. Lyme is now being diagnosed in southern B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.”1
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to people and animals through tick bites. Ticks are small arachnids, the nymphal stage of which can be as small as a poppy seed, so the tick and its bite often go unnoticed.
The disease may be difficult to diagnose. It often presents with symptoms including chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes; symptoms that are sometimes associated with the flu. History of a tick bite can help narrow the diagnosis, but not all patients know with certainty if they have been bitten or exposed. Left untreated, Lyme disease may lead to arthritis, heart and nervous system disorders and recurring neurological problems.
The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington region had the highest rates of Borrelia-infected blacklegged ticks in the country between 2006 and 2013, and rates are expected to rise with ongoing changes to the climate and other contributing factors. Going forward, there is a substantial risk to Kingston’s population. 2
In response to this growing health concern, Dr. Kieran Moore, the Associate Medical Officer for the KFL&A Public Health Unit and Professor in our Departments of Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine teamed up with Dr. Anna Majury, Clinical Microbiologist at Public Health Ontario and Assistant Professor in our Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, and Dr. Gerald Evans, Chair of our Infectious Diseases Division to create a National Lyme Disease Research Network. In April, they hosted their inaugural meeting which brought together over 40 clinicians, scientists and public health officials from across the country.
The Lyme Disease Research Network is a first for Canada; until now, a forum for collaboration and knowledge sharing around this disease did not exist. Although still in its early stages of development, the network already has a wealth of expertise around the table: epidemiologists, entomologists, clinical microbiologists and basic scientists with the hope that this network will continue to grow, bringing Canada’s best minds and Lyme researchers to the table in collaboration.
The network stretches across the country, includes 19 research laboratories and has engaged federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. This broad scope of expertise and access to shared knowledge puts the network in an excellent position to generate new strategies to address the ongoing threat of this elusive and challenging disease.
I am thrilled about this initiative and very encouraged by their efforts to date. The Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s stands firm with our goal of creating a tick-borne illness pan-Canadian research group that strives for a better understanding of Lyme disease.
Please share your thoughts on the Lyme Disease Research Network by commenting on the blog, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House…my door is always open.
Thank you to Jen Valberg and Seth Chitayat for their help in preparing this blog.
- KFL&A Public Health, KFL&A Public Health: Action Plan on Lyme disease. 2015, 12 p.