Despite uptick in Lyme disease cases, contraction still extremely rare

Despite an uptick in number of Lyme disease cases in recent years, a new study suggests the likelihood of actually contracting the disease remains low.

“The chance you have to develop an Erytherma Migrans (the rash associated with Lyme disease), even if you are in a risk region, is one to three per cent after a tick bite,” said Dr. Sylvie Bouchard, Director of Medication at the National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services (INESSS).

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of cases in Quebec doubled to 329. There are currently no ticks living on the Island of Montreal, but they are becoming extremely prevalent in Montérégie, Estrie, Outaouais and Center-du-Québec.

Other symptoms of Lyme disease include joint pain, fever, fatigue and headaches, and if the infection goes untreated, it can lead to permanent arthritis and damage to the nervous system.

“It’s scary to know that you can go walking in the woods, get bitten and not even realize that you’ve been bitten, and then afterwards develop a disease that can be very nasty and chronic in a certain percentage of people,” said Dr. Mitch Shulman, CJAD 800’s resident medical expert.

“The key thing is, yes, enjoy the outdoors, but be aware, protect yourself, and check yourself.”

 There are close to a dozen different types of ticks now living in the province, but only ticks with black legs are actually capable of carrying and transmitting the bacteria that causes the disease, making contraction extremely rare.

“One, you have to be in the woods and you have to be bitten by a tick, two, the tick has to be infect with the disease, most of them are not, and three, the tick has to hang on to you for at least 24 hours,” Dr. Shulman said.

A person's chances of contracting Lyme disease drops to close to zero if the tick is removed within 24 hours of the bite taking place, according to Dr. Bouchard.

“Prevention is the key,” she said. “When you go outside, wear long pants, put some insect repellant, don’t stay in the forest for too long, and when you come back you must examine yourself.”

 The goal of the study, which published earlier this week, is not to scare people away from going into the woods and enjoying nature, Dr. Bouchard said.

“One of the great objectives of our work is to help health professionals with training, and more information to citizens,” she said.