David Tilson on the National Lyme Disease Strategy Act (Bill C-442)

David Tilson: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today’s debate on Bill C-442, An Act respecting a National Lyme Disease Strategy. I would like to start by stating my own personal support for Bill C-442 and I am pleased to see that most, if not all, of the government members will be showing such support as well. I am also pleased how the federal government is working with the provinces, territories and the stakeholders to address Lyme disease and why the bill would be a sound complement to these efforts.


As members of the House are aware, Lyme disease is a rapidly emerging infectious disease in North America and in Europe and is transmitted to humans from the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Over the past few years I have met with a number of constituents from my riding of Dufferin—Caledon who suffer from Lyme disease, as well as family members and friends of sufferers. They have related to me the symptoms they live with and the difficulties they have faced within the medical system.

In October 2012, I met with a constituent of my riding whose name I will not use for privacy reasons, but who has been suffering with Lyme disease for seven years now. She informed me of the difficulty in diagnosing the disease which is similar to multiple sclerosis. She also informed me of the type of treatment she has been receiving and gave me some detail about what it was like to live with this disease.

This constituent is quite passionate about raising awareness of this issue. She organized signatures for a petition which I had the honour of tabling in the House. The petition called for the government to increase its efforts on behalf of those suffering with Lyme disease.

That brings me to the bill before us today. Numerous residents of Dufferin—Caledon have written to me regarding Bill C-442 and I am honoured to speak to the bill. The number of reported cases of Lyme disease in Canada has increased nine-fold from 2003-12 to over 300 cases annually. One of our problems is the actual number of cases of Lyme disease is estimated to be three times higher than those cases which are actually reported. Even more troubling, based on current trends, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that these numbers will continue to rise.

In the majority of cases, Lyme disease symptoms may include fever, headache and fatigue. Fortunately, if diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be treated quickly and effectively with antibiotics. In cases of late diagnosis where the disease has spread through the body, the burden of illness and the cost to the health system increase exponentially.

Suffice it to say, if left undiagnosed, the impacts can be devastating. Let me put in perspective why we need to make progress in raising awareness of the challenges Lyme disease poses and the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. This applies as much to the public at large as it does to health professionals.

If Canada were to indeed be managing the increased rates of Lyme disease, the difference in costs associated with early versus late diagnosis are startling. The Public Health Agency estimates that the potential cost of early diagnosis in 2020 would be just over $8 million annually. However, for late diagnosis, that figure could rise to over $338 million.

Fortunately, our government has made significant research investments in areas related to Lyme disease. Indeed, since 2006, we have invested over $4.5 million. We have established improved surveillance specifically aimed at Lyme disease so that action could be taken quickly and effectively. We are also providing federal leadership, building consensus, mobilizing partnerships and promoting education and awareness.

Research has shown that climate change is bringing Lyme disease-carrying ticks further into Canada. Understand and tracking their movement is an important part of any future strategy to combat Lyme disease.

Supporting research to generate new insights on how Lyme disease is evolving, why its impacts vary so widely and how it can be treated is central to our efforts.That is why we are committed to supporting research on the range of strains of tick-borne pathogens and their geographic location as well as the epidemiology and interventions of the disease in Canada. This will help us better forecast how Lyme disease is spreading and how its impacts can be contained.