Research team evaluating Lyme disease in province

John Brannen, The News
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NEW GLASGOW – When it comes to Lyme disease in Nova Scotia, knowledge is power.  

St. FX research assistant Jennifer Dunn, back left, environmental science professor Hugo Beltrami, nursing associate professor Patti Hansen-Ketchum, nursing associate professor Donna MacDougall, front left, and Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn gathered at his office to discuss ongoing research into Lyme disease in Nova Scotia and legislation regarding the disease. JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS

It’s that idea guiding a group of researchers from St. FX, who are looking into the health impacts of climate change in relation to Lyme disease in the province.

Three professors from the university along with a research assistant met at Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn’s office in New Glasgow on Tuesday. The research assistant, Jennifer Dunn, fourth year bachelor of science in nursing student, is a cousin of the riding’s provincial representative.

“She approached me and we basically thought why don’t we all get together,” said MLA Dunn.

The meeting gave the researchers a chance to chat with Dunn about his party’s bill to develop a comprehensive Lyme Disease Strategy for Nova Scotia. Pictou East MLA Tim Houston introduced the bill on April 10.

“Currently the province is focused on treatment of Lyme disease,” said Dr. Hugo Beltrami, an environmental science professor. “We’re backing up and finding the data to predict and provide evidence for authorities to prevent the spread of the disease.”

The research, which began last spring, is funded through a series of grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. While the research isn’t involved in active surveillance out in the field so far, the team has focused on prediction.

“We’re just at the beginning stages of gathering research and meeting with officials in public health,” said nursing associate professor Donna MacDougall.

Currently, the province has certain regulations with regard to Lyme disease, such as a requirement for health-care professionals to report cases of the disease to public health under the Health Protection Act. But according to Beltrami, with models demonstrating that climate change may result in more ticks and potential Lyme disease cases, it may be time for more public awareness.

“What we’ve found with predicted temperature changes in Nova Scotia over the next 100 years, about five degrees Celsius, is that ticks will propagate,” he said. “This gives you an idea about the breadth and ambitions of our research.” 

From 2002 to 2012, there were a total of 171 cases of Lyme disease reported in Nova Scotia. In 2013, there were 154 cases reported. Associate professor Patti Hansen-Ketchum said there might not be enough knowledge of the disease both in government and out in the public.

“A lot of people are still unaware of the risks and there aren’t many public awareness campaigns,” she said. “This may lead to different treatments or even misdiagnosis.”

As for the Lyme Disease Strategy bill introduced by Houston in April, it made it to second reading in the provincial legislature but isn’t law yet. Dunn is unsure if the bill will need to be reintroduced when the house reconvenes in the fall or if it remains on the order table.

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn

Organizations: Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, New Glasgow

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