Health Canada’s new Lyme disease plan: You act, we’ll watch

Canada is under pressure to show leadership as Lyme spreads, but its ‘action plan’ shows it’s out of touch

Anne Kingston July 30th, 2014

The term “litterbug” was popularized in the 1950s in public service announcements produced by Keep America Beautiful, a non-profit composed of government agencies, citizens, and corporations—Philip Morris, Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola, among them. The group wanted to draw attention to the growing problem of litter on newly built highways. The campaign was a success; “litterbug” remains a pejorative. But putting the onus on individuals as the cause ignored a larger, systemic problem we’re grappling with to this day: the excessive, extraneous packaging of consumer goods.

The litterbug story came to mind when I spoke recently with three scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada (Gregory Taylor, deputy chief public health officer; Robbin Lindsay, head of field studies; and Nick Ogden, senior research scientist) about the agency’s new Lyme “action plan,” which includes talking to journalists to get the word out. An initiative to raise awareness, and to improve diagnosis and treatment, of the tick-borne infection is desperately needed in this country. Incidence of Lyme is on the rise, abetted by global warming, which extends ticks’ habitats. The spectre of a Canadian “Lyme epidemic” prompted Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to propose Bill C-442, itself a “national action plan” on Lyme disease. It passed through third reading in the House of Commons in June and has been referred to the Senate.

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