Lyme disease is an infectious illness caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a spiral-shaped bacteria called a spirochete, found in mice, deer, squirrels and birds.  In British Columbia the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus), or deer tick, is the main carrier.  Ticks pick up Borrelia by biting infected animals and birds, and then bite people, transmitting the bacteria.  There is also some evidence that Lyme disease can be passed via blood transfusion, during pregnancy and sexual transmission.

lyme disease tick3

Borrelia has been around for thousands of years and was first documented by a German physician in 1883.  It wasn’t until 1975, however, that it first received global attention after an outbreak of juvenile arthritis in Lyme, Connecticut, USA; the location from where the disease takes its name.  Six years later in 1981, Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, the leading researcher investigating the outbreak, discovered the tick-borne spirochete that causes Lyme disease and named it Borrelia burgdorferi.  There are hunderds of strains of Borrelia, but not all cause Lyme disease.

Widespread in Canada

Lyme disease has been found throughout Canada.  While more common in rural areas, urban areas are also at risk because of migratory birds.  Even though the average deer tick can survive very cold climates, infection rates drop considerably in the winter because people spend less time outdoors.  Risk of infection is greater in areas known for ticks, and with time spent outdoors either for work or recreation.

There is controversy within the medical community as to the prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, but Lyme disease is not rare, it’s just rarely diagnosed.  Canadian data is limited, but recent announcements in August 2013 by the U.S. Center for Disease Control are that 300,000 plus Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year based upon a survey of seven national laboratories, a national patient survey and a review of insurance information.  Since Lyme disease is grossly underreported, the true count is probably much higher, but this is the best estimate thus far.  In the last 40 years Lyme disease has reached epidemic proportions and has become one of the fastest spreading infectious diseases in the world.

The Great Imitator

Lyme disease is one of the most complicated and misunderstood illnesses.  It often goes undetected or misdiagnosed as another disease.  One of the major challenges, and why it eludes many doctors, is that Lyme can infect every major organ system in the body, producing symptoms similar to over 300 diseases.  Lyme disease is called the "Great Imitator", because it masquerades as so many other degenerative conditions.  About half the people diagnosed with chronic fatigue are actually suffering from Lyme.  The muscle, joint and tendon pain seen in fibromyalgia and several types of arthritis have also been linked to Lyme disease.  The neurological symptoms of Lyme disease are easily confused with multiple sclerosis and cognitive symptoms can present as psychiatric illnesses.  A significant number of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s cases have also been connected to Lyme.  As a consequence, many patients receive less than optimal treatment for another illness while they actually have Lyme disease.

Research suggests that a large percentage of chronically ill patients have an underlying Lyme infection and/or co-infection(s).  Chronic Lyme disease should always be considered if you are suffering from an unexplained, long-term illness that is not improving, even if in the past Lyme disease tests came back negative.  While the mystery illness may not be caused directly by Borrelia, Lyme disease can still be an important contributing factor.  Not everyone with a chronic illness, however, has Lyme disease, but it should be considered as a possibility.  The diseases and conditions commonly connected to Lyme include:

Acrodermatitis Chronica Atrophicans (ACA)

Acute Transitory Atrioventricular Block


Alzheimer’s disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS - Lou Gehrig’s Disease)




Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)

Autoimmune Disorders

Bell's Palsy

Bipolar Disorder

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Cognitive Dysfunction


Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Cranial Polyneurtis

Crohn's Disease

Demyelinating Disorders



Erythema Chronicum


Fifth's Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Hormone Imbalances

Interstitial Cystitis (IC)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Juvenile Arthritis


Meniere’s Syndrome



Multiple Sclerosis (MS)


Parkinson's Disease

Polymyalgia Rheumatica

Progressive Visual Deterioration


Reversible Dementia

Rheumatoid Arthritis



Sensory or Motor Radiculoneuropathy

Sjogren's Syndrome

Sleep Disorders


Thyroid Disease

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