Lyme disease testing in Canada questioned

Advocates with Lyme disease are calling on all levels of government in Canada to improve testing and treatment for the illness.

The disease is spread by a bite from an infected blacklegged tick that introduces bacteria into the bloodstream. Without antibiotic treatment, it can cause a complicated, serious illness.

In Ottawa there were only 10 reported cases of the disease last year, but advocates and medical officials say it's likely underreported because early symptoms can be misdiagnosed.

The disease shares many symptoms with other diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), meningitis or chronic fatigue.

Dr. Carolyn Pim, Ottawa's associate medical officer of health, said Lyme disease is often mistaken for fibromyalgia or MS.

"In the early stages the blood tests can be negative so they should be repeated. If people have inaccurate diagnosis it's challenging not to have the symptoms treated," said Pim.

Blood tests not accurate, advocate says

But according to Jim Wilson, head of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, blood tests conducted in Canada are part of the problem.

"The tests are not that accurate," said Wilson, who had the disease, as did his daughter, who now has a pacemaker.

"We have many strains of the Lyme bacteria. We're only testing for one strain of one species … we think that is horribly wrong."

Ottawa resident Heather King, 38, told CBC News she has been forced to go to the United States for treatment of Lyme disease because doctors here do not know enough about the illness.

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May introduced a private member's bill in June calling for a national action plan to improve the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme disease.