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EDITORIAL: Problem will only get worse

The subject of ticks and Lyme disease gets plenty of attention in the media and general conversation. Unfortunately, part of the reason it’s such a hot topic is the concern among so many that it’s not getting the corresponding attention it deserves in seeing that improved diagnosis and treatment is available.

It’s a scary prospect. Many Nova Scotians have heard stories of people in their area who have suffered the disease, in some cases misdiagnosed and left to develop without proper treatment, all leading to a serious and unshakable case.

It becomes more worrisome for people as the presence of black-legged ticks spreads to more areas, along with increased likelihood that the insects could be infected with Lyme.

A recent media report told the story of an Enfield woman, Jana Young, who suffered for years, had not been aware of Lyme disease, and whose doctor hadn’t tested her for Lyme but treated her for her myriad of symptoms individually with such medications as arthritis drugs and pain relievers. And these symptoms can vary and be debilitating – in Young’s case severe joint pain and fatigue that often kept her bedridden.

She’s become convinced that what she has is Lyme disease and is planning to get a second opinion from a different doctor. She still suffers from flare-ups of the symptoms. She’s also become less than confident that testing for Lyme currently available isn’t very accurate – a chief concern shared by many.

And yet politicians both on the provincial and federal level have been calling for governments to set in place protocol for Lyme testing and treatment.

So far, much of the response from health departments and awareness groups is that people need to educate themselves about the risks, and ways to avoid ticks, to check for them and how to carefully remove them. That’s all valuable, essential information, of course, but with the spread of black-legged ticks and the disease, better recourse has to be available for those affected.

A U.S.-based investigative journalist, Mary Beth Pfeiffer, has studied the dilemma and says there is still no reliable test for the disease, with doctors using old, ineffective technology. In her book “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change,” the author discusses what she believes is a looming health crisis.

She also maintains that the lack of knowledge in the health field results in professionals not wishing to acknowledge the problem and hesitant to pronounce a Lyme diagnosis.

Without doubt, early detection and treatment will see the greatest success.

And although understanding risks and going to lengths to avoid an encounter is highly recommended, more needs to be done.

More research is needed toward a reliable treatment. Also, a Lyme vaccination was available years ago, but was discontinued for a variety of reasons. We need a serious look at the possibility of developing a vaccination that is safe and effective, because simply avoiding ticks is apparently becoming less and less possible.

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