Lyme disease rare in Shuswap

The bull’s eye is definitely spot-on in diagnosing Lyme disease.

This is from Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer with Interior Health.

And while he says tests of 5,557 ticks collected in the Southern Okanagan over two summers were all dermacentor andersoni, or Rocky Mountain wood ticks that Parker says have never been known to carry Lyme disease, he doesn’t deny there are cases of the disease in Interior Health.

“Lyme disease is real even in IH,” he says, noting people often get tick bites when they travel to the Lower Mainland or U.S. seaboard where the Lyme disease-carrying tick I. pacificus is more prevalent – even though about less than one per cent have the Lyme disease bacteria at any given time.

“I couldn’t guarantee there isn’t one I. pacificus and because there are other tick-borne diseases it’s good to take precautions.”

The dermacentor andersoni tick is nothing to sneeze at. Their bites contain a toxin in spring time that can cause temporary limb paralysis in young children and older adults, Parker says, noting the paralysis eases off after the tick fills its belly and drops off.

In terms of a recent Observer story in which a Sunnybrae resident says she was treated as if her symptoms were “all in her head,” Parker says a survey of physicians in 2008 showed that while 92 per cent of those surveyed knew of Lyme disease, more than half were not aware the bull’s eye rash is a definitive indicator of the disease.

In defence of Canadian testing for the disease, something derided by most Lyme disease sufferers, Parker says a first blood test may well come back negative and must be repeated one month later.

The problem with the California test is that it is very sensitive and can pick up Lyme disease but sometimes gives false-positives and fails to pick up other diseases.

“We don’t want to treat every tick bite,” he says, noting there are risks to taking antibiotics. “Some people with Lyme disease feel there’s some kind of health conspiracy.”

A new $2-million provincial clinical and research study to help patients with a variety of complex chronic diseases get screening, diagnosis and treatment will help with the issues, says Parker.


Tips to protect yourself from ticks

Interior Health offers  a list of precautions regarding ticks.

• Walk on cleared trails wherever possible.

• Wear light coloured clothing, tuck your top into your pants and tuck your pants into your boots or socks.

• Put insect repellent containing five per cent Permethrin onto clothing only and insect repellent containing DEET on all uncovered skin.

• Check clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving an area where ticks may live.

• Regularly check household pets, which go into tall grass and wooded areas.



How to remove ticks

Do not do anything that can stress or crush the tick’s body, causing it to inject its stomach contents into your blood:

• Using needlenose tweezers, gently grasp the tick close to the skin. If you find it difficult to remove the tick do not use grease, alcohol or heat to remove the tick. Visit your doctor.

• Without squeezing, pull the tick straight out.


• After removal, clean the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic cream.