Lyme-infected ticks are, and have been on Vancouver Island for much longer than the public has been aware of. Part of the problem has been that until very recently, health officials here were told that Lyme disease did not exist on Vancouver Island. Medical boards & health authorities did not have accurate information and were not trained to test for Lyme disease.
Many people on Vancouver Island that have been infected with Lyme disease were given inadequate testing (if any) as well as inadequate treatment, including Dr. Martin Rodgers who was bitten at his home on the Malahat. Rodgers developed a bulls-eye rash (rashes only occur in approximately 30% of Lyme patients with only 9% reporting the classic "bulls-eye" formation) and was given two days of antibiotics and told not to worry. After developing classic Lyme symptoms such as chronic fatigue and pain, he had to obtain a test result from a US private labratory which confirmed the presence of Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria which causes Lyme Disease.
Dr. Lucy Kinninmonth, a veterinarian from Vancouver Island has seen about 20 specialists who had tested her for everything but Lyme disease because doctors told her "We don't have Lyme disease here". She finally had to spend 900.00 to send her own blood sample to a lab in California and her result came back as strongly positive for Lyme.
There are at least four species of ticks known to carry Lyme disease on Vancouver Island. There is also a species that is carrying another Lyme causing bacteria called "Borrelia genomospecies 2" that is commonly found on rabbits, but can bite anyone and potentially spread Lyme disease.
Thankfully, things are starting to shift- largely in part because of the work of non-profit organizations such as the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) as well as new legislature thanks to Elizabeth May and the Green Party that will start to change the way Lyme Disease awareness, testing and treatment occurs in Canada. Elizabeth May's Private Member’s Bill, C-442, the Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act was passed unanimously at third reading by the Senate the morning of Friday, December 12, 2014, making it the first piece of Green Party legislation in Canadian history. Just one more reason to love Elizabeth May and the Green Party!
Now that the medical community are recognizing that Lyme disease is on Vancouver Island and that it is a serious potential threat to public health, it should make proper diagnostic and treatment more accessible as time goes on. To prevent Lyme disease, it is important that everyone become aware of tick prevention methods as well as safe removal techniques and that people make themselves aware of what to do as far as medical attention and testing are concerned if bitten by a tick.
When hiking in the woods, or generally spending time outdoors, wearing light colored clothing can be helpful. It is easier to spot ticks on white or very light colored clothing than dark colors like brown or black. Tying hair back, tucking socks into pants and wearing long-sleeves and pants will help decrease surfaces for ticks to bite. Remember, ticks do not jump down on you from above- they cling to you when you brush by bushes (like Scottish Broom), plants and animals or if you are laying on the ground and crawl up until they find a nice place to bite.
When you finish your hike or time outdoors, do a tick check of yourself and kids. Especially inspect around and inside ears, belly buttons, arm pits and the groin area as ticks like dark, moist areas where they will be most concealed. Give your head a thorough check as well. A brilliant and inexpensive tool that can help pull off unwanted, unattached ticks, is a lint roller. Simple roll the lint roller up and down your legs, arms and torso to help remove any ticks you may have missed with just your eyes (ticks can be so tiny!).
Officially, the recommendation is to wear an insect repellent with DEET (yikes!) but if you're like me and want to avoid potentially harmful substances- try making your own or purchasing one like I make with herbal tincture and essential oils. My general recipe is as follows: 4-6 oz of Yarrow tincture (1:2 from fresh flowers) with 40-50 drops of catnip, eucalyptus, lavender and lemongrass essential oils and about a 1/2- 1 tsp of vegetable glycerin. I spray this on every 15-30 minutes when tromping through the woods.
The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) states that Lyme disease is less likely to be contracted if a tick is removed within the first 24 hours of it biting you. They recommend that you NEVER burn or smother a tick, but instead use a pair of needle nose tweezers to gently but firmly pull the tick straight out by gripping its mouth piece. For more information on safe tick removal check out their website here: https://canlyme.com/lyme-prevention/tick-removal/
CanLyme also has a really awesome tick kit that includes several tick removing tools, an ID card, containers to place a tick and directions on where to send it, etc. The best part is, it's only 15.00! It can easily fit in your backpack, pocket or first aid kit. I highly recommend it, especially if you have children or pets and love to play outdoors!
If you have been experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease and even if you have received a negative test result in Canada- that doesn't guarantee you don't have Lyme disease. Tests in Canada are highly controversial and considered by many to be faulty and inaccurate. Many people have spent months or years trying to get a proper diagnoses only to finally send away their samples to a private lab in the states and get back the result that they are positive for Lyme disease. For more information on testing see here
Finally, remember that our herbal allies are all around us and they are powerful healing and restorative beings. Herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner (one of my favorites... and he's from British Columbia!) has an entire book dedicated to helping people with Lyme. He outlines the most powerful herbal allies in combating Lyme Disease- with or without antibiotics. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about herbal medicine for Lyme Disease. You can find it on Amazon here.
Enjoy the outdoors, everyone!