Frequently asked questions
Q: What are the greatest risk factors for Lyme disease?
A: People who work outdoors, enjoy hiking, camping, gardening or those who live close to populations of Ixodes ticks are at greatest risk.
Q: Is it possible to contract Lyme disease if I don’t spend time in tick-infested areas (ie. the forest, wooded parks, grassy fields, etc.)?
A: Yes. Ticks are carried by deer, mice/rats, birds and pets, and are dropped at random across Canada. Although some locations pose greater risks, you can be exposed anywhere, such as your cottage, in the parks of towns or cities and even in your own backyard.
Q: Does every tick bite result in Lyme disease?
A: No. In most of Canada, a variable, but minority of ticks carry Lyme bacteria. However there are areas in Canada where half of ticks are infected. Across Canada, about 30% of ticks carried by migratory birds carry the Lyme bacterium.
Whereas only a minority of ticks carry the Lyme bacterium, it’s important to receive treatment as a precaution. If Lyme is present, waiting for symptoms to develop or for the tick to be tested allows more time for the bacterium to become firmly established in the body.
Ticks carry many serious diseases, but fortunately most are easily treated in the early stages. Visit your doctor immediately if a tick has bitten you.
Q: Does everyone with Lyme disease remember a tick bite?
A: No, actually very few people remember being bitten by a tick. This is because nymphal ticks are tiny (about the size of a poppy seed), so many people don’t notice being bitten.
Nearly all Canadians are at risk for contracting Lyme. If you develop a rash that lasts more than a few days – especially a rash resembling a “bull’s eye” – Lyme disease should be considered as a cause.
Q: Does everyone with Lyme disease remember a rash?
A: No, some Lyme victims don’t develop a rash, while others dismiss the incident without seeking medical help. Research has shown that only 9% of rashes, if present, form the over-publicized bull’s eye presentation.
Q: Are all cases of Lyme disease serious?
A: Some Lyme victims are not debilitated by the disease, and seem to manage very well with a short course of antibiotic treatment. However, anyone who remains ill should ask for follow-up care, because Lyme disease becomes more difficult to treat over time.
Although chronic Lyme Disease can be very debilitating, research shows that long-term antibiotic treatment can effectively treat chronic Lyme Disease.
Q: Does the provincial lab test detect strains of the Lyme bacterium found in Europe?
A: The provincial labs generally test only for the strain of Lyme bacterium found in the eastern US which raises the possibility of a false negative test considering the diversity of strains found in Canada and other countries.
Q: If I’m experiencing Lyme-like symptoms, but test results were negative, does that mean that I can’t have Lyme?
A: No, evidence suggests that Canada’s Lyme testing methods (at least up to January 2012) are not as sensitive as those used in the US and Europe.
“False negative” test results are common, especially in the early stages of Lyme. It takes time after an infection for antibodies against the Lyme bacterium to develop, so early tests often miss evidence of the bacteria.
Q: Do Lyme victims usually appear to be ill?
A: No, it’s possible to be very ill and outwardly look fine. In many cases, the very low energy levels, and neurologic dysfunction associated with Lyme don’t change a person’s appearance.
Q: Lyme is easy to treat, so if a patient’s still sick after treatment, do they have ‘Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome’?
A: Lyme is complicated to treat. It may be easier to treat when recognized early but we don’t know how early or how many cases may have later relapsed. There is no generally accepted definition of ‘Post Lyme Disease Syndrome’ and we haven’t yet excluded persistent infection as a cause of continued symptoms. There are many more questions than answers.
Q: Is all Lyme disease treated with intravenous antibiotics?
A: No, the vast majority of Lyme disease patients do well on oral antibiotics. Intravenous antibiotics may be required for more difficult neurological or cardiac cases. Once you’ve found a good Lyme-literate physician, you’ll have to go with their experience.