The hundreds of Nova Scotians bitten by ticks every year can now drop into a pharmacy for free help preventing Lyme disease.
The province's Health Department announced Friday that the government will cover the cost of a pharmacist assessment for tick bites, which would determine whether a preventive antibiotic is needed.
Until now, anyone who had a tick bite had to go to a physician or nurse practitioner to get an assessment covered by the province.
Diane Harpell, chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, said she knows first-hand how important this type of prevention can be.
In the Dartmouth neighborhood where Harpell owns a pharmacy, she said she is aware of three children who live with Lyme disease. She said access to an assessment at a pharmacy might have made a difference in their cases.
"The convenience of being able to go to a pharmacy, and knowing that you've got options in many neighbourhoods ... and have it funded is huge," Harpell said Friday.
"I would have liked to see these children have that option and have it paid for months ago."
Harpell said the fee, now covered by the province, is $20 per assessment.
The assessment includes whether the tick bite was from a blacklegged tick, whether it was removed in the previous 72 hours and whether it was attached for at least 36 hours.
If the treatment — a single dose of doxycycline — is prescribed, the patient would still have to pay for the medication out of pocket or through health coverage.
Pharmacists in the province got the authority to assess and preventatively treat tick bites this summer, on Aug. 1.
But Harpell noted that pharmacists don't have the authority to diagnose or treat Lyme disease. Anyone with symptoms like a rash at the bite site should see a doctor or nurse practitioner for treatment options, she said.
Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson said she represents a rural area where ticks are a "frequent reality.
More than 800 cases of Lyme in 2019
"We want to give Nova Scotians increased access to care when and where it makes sense," Thompson said in the release.
"Pharmacists are a big part of that and funding assessments at local pharmacies often makes it easier and more convenient for people, whether rural or urban residents, to prevent this potentially serious disease."
At Province House Friday, Thompson said the treatment is "very affordable" and effective.
The treatment is only recommended if it can be administered within a 72-hour window after the tick is removed, according to the province.
Thompson said having pharmacists provide the service directs people away from overburdened clinics and emergency rooms and allows them to get help sooner.
In 2019, there were 830 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease reported in Nova Scotia, the province said.
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