Officials in Quebec's Eastern Townships are warning of a spike in ticks carrying Lyme disease, putting residents and visitors at high risk of exposure.
In 2021, the number of people infected with the disease in the region doubled compared to the year before — 387 last year compared to 157 in 2020 — and more than half of the people infected with Lyme disease in the province contracted it in the Eastern Townships.
"This is a serious problem, and I think that the population must take it seriously," said Bromont Mayor Louis Villeneuve.
"The tick is here, we have to live with it, we have to be careful."
At a news conference held in Bromont on Thursday, public health officials said the disease is spreading rapidly, affecting the regional county municipality of le Granit as well as towns like Windsor and Val-des-Sources.
"These were towns that were not very affected before," said Dr. Geneviève Baron, a medical advisor for public health in the Eastern Townships and a member of the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Network.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria entering the body through an infected tick bite and if left untreated, can lead to long-term health problems.
The most indicative symptom of Lyme disease is a circular red rash around the spot of the tick bite. Other symptoms include headache, fever and chills, fatigue, aching muscles and joints, swollen lymph nodes and spasms or weakness.
Baron said there are antibiotics available in pharmacies to help treat the bacterial infection and avoid health complications.
"The important thing is to identify it quickly, because the treatment is very effective at first. In the first few weeks, if you are treated, it resolves easily," said Baron.
Tick removal tweezers will also be offered free of charge in Bromont.
Public health officials are recommending that residents adopt good habits, such as wearing long-sleeved clothing in wooded areas and by inspecting themselves for ticks or tick bites following outdoor activities.
There is hope that a vaccine against the disease will soon be available as Valneva and Pfizer are expected to continue clinical trials this year.
Health officials are also keeping their eye on Anaplasmosis, another tick-borne disease, which is increasingly common in the Eastern Townships.
Its symptoms are similar to those of the flu, but like Lyme disease, it must also be treated quickly to avoid the risk of health complications.