Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Janis G. Johnson moved second reading of Bill C-442, An Act respecting a Federal Framework on Lyme Disease.
She said: Honourable senators, it is a great honour to address Bill C-442, An Act respecting a Federal Framework on Lyme Disease.
I thank Elizabeth May, member of Parliament, for asking me to do this and her leadership for giving me the honour to do so.
This proposed legislation is laudable, given that the disease has gone from being an anomaly roughly 40 years ago, to a growing risk to the health of Canadians today.
Researchers note that the geographic range of Lyme disease- carrying ticks has expanded from a small pocket in the northeast of the United States to a wide southern area of Canada.
In light of potentially serious health care issues, this bill focuses national attention on preventing and mitigating Lyme disease across Canada. It offers constructive suggestions about what more can be done to help prevent, identify and treat the disease.
Honourable senators, there is no question that Bill C-442 has struck a chord, and because of this, the federal government has recently enhanced its leadership role in responding to Lyme disease. Key elements proposed in the bill align well with the government’s Action Plan on Lyme Disease.
The goals of the action plan are twofold: to prevent Lyme disease and to ensure that cases are treated in the early stages of the disease.
As such, the government is actively collaborating with the provinces and territories, non-governmental and leading health professional organizations, such as the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Canadian Nurses Association, to deal with the growing health risk posed by Lyme disease.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recognizes that effective protection, prevention and control of Lyme disease require a coordinated, multi-partner and stakeholder engagement approach. The agency is providing national leadership, building consensus, mobilizing partnerships, strengthening surveillance and promoting education and awareness through this action plan, which focuses on three pillars: engagement, education and awareness; surveillance, prevention and control; and research and diagnosis. These three areas are consistent with the key elements of Bill C-442 and are already delivering results.
The agency has a well-established approach to national surveillance for both ticks and human cases of Lyme disease. To enhance its surveillance, prevention and control, the agency is consulting with stakeholders regarding improving prevention efforts, public health guidelines and reference tools on Lyme disease to reflect the latest scientific evidence and best practices.
Equally important, federally funded research is increasing our understanding of Lyme disease. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in connection with domestic and international partners, will explore new science and research to better detect, diagnose and treat Lyme disease among Canadians. This will assist medical professionals and provincial laboratories in their diagnosis of the disease.
Honourable senators, there is a need to help the public recognize the dangers of being bitten by ticks and how to prevent and treat tick bites. Removing infected ticks within 48 hours significantly reduces the risk of developing Lyme disease. We heard that some people do not visit their doctor following a bite, either because they do not notice it or because the early symptoms of Lyme disease can be difficult to identify. Many assume they have the flu and don’t get any treatment.
The Canadian Public Health Agency is working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to engage health professionals on Lyme disease by increasing their knowledge to diagnose and treat it in its early stages.
Diagnostic testing in the early stages of Lyme disease does not always detect the disease because the immune system has not yet developed antibodies, which the blood tests read, thereby potentially rendering inaccurate results. Thus, the Public Health Agency of Canada has committed to looking at new diagnostic methods, as they become available, to better diagnose Lyme disease in Canadians, and diagnostic methods are critical.
Currently, there are no vaccines commercially available that prevent this disease in humans. Until one is available, the government’s public awareness campaign recommends that Canadians, particularly in areas where blacklegged ticks are known to occur, be vigilant in protecting themselves by wearing protective clothing and using insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin. These are currently the best measures to guard against Lyme disease.
In most cases, the disease can be cured with immediate antibiotic treatment and, as it is an emerging disease in Canada, there seems to be a low level of awareness of how to diagnose and treat the disease by Canadian physicians.
Honourable senators, early and accurate diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent the onset of serious health problems. If left untreated, this disease can permanently change a person’s health, leaving them with chronic illnesses like arthritis and heart disease and many neurological disorders.
Understanding this, the Public Health Agency is reviewing the current body of evidence on Lyme disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment and will work with partners to support new research to address gaps. The agency is also investing in research to find new strains and pathogens of tick-borne diseases, as well as enhanced surveillance to identify new risk areas to better inform Canadians.
The provisions set out in Bill C-442 are well-aligned with what the federal government is doing to effectively address Lyme disease. Through the Action Plan on Lyme Disease, the federal government has demonstrated concrete action to effectively address this serious disease. The Federal Framework on Lyme Disease proposed in this bill will better equip the government to further fulfil its leadership role in addressing this disease head-on.
(On motion of Senator Campbell, debate adjourned.)