Wor­ried about Lyme? Don’t wait for lab re­sults

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials say test­ing ticks for bac­te­ria is meant to as­sess re­gional risks

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - TEVIAH MORO

No ticks sub­mit­ted to Hamil­ton pub­lic health have tested pos­i­tive for the bac­te­ria that leads to Lyme dis­ease in hu­mans dur­ing a ban­ner year for the blood­suck­ing crit­ters.

But Hamil­ton Pub­lic Health is still urg­ing to res­i­dents to watch out for the tiny arach­nids and not rely on lengthy lab­o­ra­tory test­ing to di­ag­nose the dis­ease.

“That in­for­ma­tion is not avail­able in a timely fash­ion to let peo­ple know if they’ve been ex­posed to Lyme dis­ease,” said Dr. Jes­sica Hop­kins, the city’s as­so­ciate med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health.

If ex­posed to black­legged ticks, which can carry the bac­te­ria that causes Lyme dis­ease, peo­ple should con­sult their doc­tor right away for di­ag­no­sis.

A Hamil­ton res­i­dent re­cently con­tacted The Spec­ta­tor to com­plain about a three-week wait for test re­sults af­ter Hamil­ton Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal sent a black­legged tick to a Pub­lic Health On­tario lab­o­ra­tory for anal­y­sis.

The man said the tick had been found on his 74-year-old father’s leg when he went to the hos­pi­tal for a her­nia op­er­a­tion. He’d been golf­ing in Turkey Point, a hot spot for in­fected ticks. Since then, he’s been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dizzy spells.

A Hamil­ton Health Sciences spokesper­son con­firmed the tick was sent to On­tario Pub­lic Health, which is its stan­dard prac­tice. The hos­pi­tal is fol­low­ing up with the pa­tient, Lil­lian Badzioch said.

The test­ing of tick sam­ples sent to On­tario Pub­lic Health is meant to as­sess the po­ten­tial risk of dis­ease in­fec­tion in the prov­ince by flag­ging ar­eas where black­legged ticks are set­tling.

Black­legged tick spec­i­mens are sent to the Na­tional Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy Lab­o­ra­tory in Win­nipeg to find out if they’re car­ry­ing Bor­re­lia burgdor­feri, the bac­te­ria that causes Lyme dis­ease, ex­plained Dr. Samir Pa­tel, a clin­i­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist with Pub­lic Health On­tario.

That test­ing can take as long as six months, he said.

“That is why treat­ment for Lyme dis­ease is not de­pen­dent on test­ing of the tick. Treat­ment for Lyme dis­ease is based on clin­i­cal di­ag­no­sis of symp­toms by a health-care provider, whether the per­son was in a risk area for black­legged ticks and Lyme dis­ease, and how long the tick may have been at­tached to the per­son.”

Peo­ple who find ticks on them can sub­mit the in­sects to lo­cal health units or health-care providers to send to the pro­vin­cial agency’s lab­o­ra­tory. On­tario Pub­lic Health also tests pa­tient blood sam­ples sent by fam­ily doc­tors.

So far this year, 694 ticks have been sub­mit­ted to Hamil­ton’s pub­lic health unit for anal­y­sis. Of those, 26 were found to be black­legged ticks that orig­i­nated in the city.

None have tested pos­i­tive for Bor­re­lia burgdor­feri, but some re­sults are pend­ing.

The prov­ince hasn’t flagged Hamil­ton as a Lyme dis­ease “risk area.” Nearby lo­ca­tions such as Turkey Point, Long Point, Ni­a­gara Falls, Wain­fleet Blog and Toronto are con­sid­ered hot spots, how­ever.

Hop­kins noted cli­mate change is push­ing ticks father north and ex­pand­ing their reach in On­tario.

“At some point in the fu­ture, we do ex­pect Hamil­ton will see more black­legged ticks and Lyme dis­ease.”

Pub­lic health con­ducts “tick-drag­ging” in the spring and fall to sur­vey the pres­ence of black­legged ticks in Hamil­ton dur­ing two stages of their life cy­cles. That in­volves drag­ging a pole with a long, white flag through grassy ar­eas to col­lect spec­i­mens. The bugs are pulled off, iden­ti­fied and sent for anal­y­sis.

For more in­for­ma­tion on ticks, visit Hamil­ton Pub­lic Health at www.hamil­ton.ca/ticks


Black­legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, can carry the bac­te­ria that causes Lyme dis­ease. So far this year, 26 have been sent to pub­lic health.

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