Dryden resident Sara Brunner is fighting to bring more attention to Lyme disease in the area, in honour of Lyme Disease Awareness Month - taking place through May. Brunner has been battling Lyme disease since 2016, and she says that if she knew more about the disease at the time, her life may have never changed.

“I didn’t find a tick on myself when I was bitten, I found the bite mark after the tick had bit me. I went to the clinic and the Nurse Practitioner that I had seen thought it was a spider bite. My symptoms didn’t start right away, they were off and on. I didn’t know enough about Lyme disease. It was two years between the time that I was bitten and by the time I was diagnosed. If I was treated when I went to the clinic, I probably would have been completely fine.”

Brunner was on antibiotics for roughly 18 months, and has now switched into a biological medicine treatment plan. Throughout 2016 and 2017, Brunner travelled to Washington DC for treatment every four weeks. She and her husband have also had to travel to Switzerland for four weeks for her diagnosis and treatment this past January. 

“The disease affects your whole body. Your heart, your nervous system, there’s nowhere safe in your body. The bacteria is very invasive. I have a very hard time with temperatures. It also affects your autonomic nervous system. All of your body’s systems that we don’t think about, temperature regulation, heart rate, breathing, all of those things are controlled by the autonomic nervous system.”

“My biggest message to people is that it’s preventable. The most important thing is to protect yourself. People need to be more aware. This is the time of the year that people need that reminder the most. When the snow starts disappearing, this is when we start heading outdoors. People just need to be careful.”

Brunner offered some safety tips for residents who are planning to head outdoors:

- Wear bug spray
- Wear light, tucked-in clothing
- Wear clothes with built-in insect shield
- Check for ticks when you get home
- If you do get bit, get the tick out of your body
- Bring the tick to the Northwestern Health Unit
- Talk to your doctor, don’t wait until you get a rash

There are two types of ticks in the region. The Wood Tick is the more common one, which typically does not carry Lyme Disease, and the less common Deer tick which more-commonly carries Lyme Disease. Your chance of developing Lyme Disease is lowered significantly if you remove the tick within 24 hours.

The Northwestern Health Unit has tick identification kits for residents to bring in their ticks to identify what species they are, and if that particular tick has any Lyme disease bacteria.

Researcher John Scott has also been advocating for more awareness and prevention for Lyme disease awareness in the area, after publishing research about record high rates of the bacteria in ticks on Lake of the Woods’ Corkscrew Island.

His three-year research project done by Lyme Ontario found that adult ticks on Corkscrew Island had a 73 per cent infection rate, the highest ever recorded in Canada. His study was published in late 2016.

Scott has also said that Lyme disease is a health-care crisis, as some doctor’s aren’t taking the disease as seriously as they should.

“In terms of our area, the health unit and other researchers do surveillance, but they can only do so much,” Brunner added.

“There have been studies in the Kenora area and Corkscrew island, where there was a high amount of ticks that were tested brought back Lyme. Even though that’s on an island or elsewhere, ticks can attach themselves to birds which will fly throughout the region, when the lake is frozen and deer can walk across, deer can bring them back to the area. Just because those ticks were in one area, doesn’t mean that they stay in that area.”

A new study published by the Public Health Agency of Canada says that there are more ticks in more parts of Canada now, and they believe that this could lead to more cases of Lyme disease this year. Around 20 per cent of blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease across Canada.

There were 1,479 cases across Canada in 2017, something that PHAC calls a “significant national increase” of nearly 50 per cent compared to 2016. There were ten times as many cases reported in 2017 compared to 20019. Numbers have increased every year.

According to the Government of Canada, 323 cases of Lyme disease were found in 74 municipalities across Ontario in 2015. Another 22 cases were found in 12 municipalities four years ago. Last June, the federal government announced it was spending $4 million to aid research into Lyme disease.

Brunner has been blogging and making videos about her experience since 2016, when she was first diagnosed. She has written about her variety of symptoms, her experience in travelling for health-care, and much more.

She added that any Dryden residents who want to learn more about the disease can rent out “Why Can’t I Get Better?” A textbook about the disease by a Lyme disease researcher, that she donated to the Dryden Public Library.

For more information:
Soul Nutrition Consulting
Northwestern Health unit