More than 200 health professionals and 500 members of the public turned out to the Lyme Disease Conference at the Bridgewater Cineplex theatre November 16 and 17.
"We're here today to consult with members of the medical community in the effort to better understand this disease, its prevention and treatment and perhaps identify ways that we as a community can better combat the threat of Lyme," said Susan Corkum-Greek, the moderator on the first day. That event, called Lyme SOS, drew a spectrum of health professionals, including physicians, nurses, health administrators, pharmacists and naturopaths.
The newly formed not-for-profit group, Lunenburg Lyme Association, organized the free, two-day event, bringing together a roster of presenters who covered everything from the impact of the climate crisis, incidence levels of the disease, the challenges of diagnosis and treatment, and legal and ethical issues. There also were personal stories of lives affected.
"I liken Lyme disease to the Aids epidemic. It's growing at an alarming rate and there doesn't appear to be much in the way of political will to support the dilemma," said conference organizer, Yvonne Mosley, whose husband died from complications caused by Lyme disease.
Fourteen-year-old Alyssa Schwartz of Bridgewater, whose story first appeared in this newspaper two years ago, stood before the health professionals and told them about her diagnosis and treatment for the disease.
Donna Lugar, Nova Scotia representative and board member of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, lamented, "It should not be the luck of the draw as to whether your doctor is knowledgeable or not."
The audience received an international perspective on the disease through a presentation live-streamed from Ireland featuring the infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Jack Lambert, of the Lyme Resource Centre, Mater Hospital in Dublin.
Dr. Todd Hatchette spoke as the chief of the microbiology division of the Capital District Authority's department of pathology and laboratory medicine. He noted that in the Western zone the incidents of Lyme disease is about 240 cases per 100,000 people. "The highest in Canada." He spoke about how about some of the ways the disease manifests itself, and some of the challenges of diagnosis and treatment.
A number of the presenters at Lyme SOS also spoke on November 17 at the event aimed at the general public. Called Lyme 101, that event was moderated by Claudette Garland, a councillor for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg.
Dr. Jennifer Cram, the medical officer of health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's western zone, described efforts and developments concerning the disease from a public health administration perspective. "What I would really, really like to see is vaccine development," she said.
Dr. Vett Lloyd, a professor at Mount Allison University, who is working on tick biology, suggested it would be helpful and avoid unnecessary worry and resources if people could learn to recognize the different ticks, since only about 60 per cent of the approximately 700 Nova Scotia ticks that she examined were black-legged ticks, which may carry borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
How children are diagnosed and treated was discussed by Dr. Joanne Langley, who is the chair in Pediatric Vaccinology at Dalhousie University and an infectious diseases specialist at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. While legal issues concerning diagnosis and treatment were covered by Dr. Ralph Hawkins, who travelled to the conference from Calgary.
Hawkins is an internal medicine and Lyme specialist whose outpatient clinic in that city has evaluated more than 400 people for Lyme disease and has a waiting list extending more than a year. Among his credentials, he includes a Masters of Law degree from Northumbria University in the U.K.
The public day also included presentations by specialists in naturopathic medicine, pharmaceutical care and emergency medicine.
"I thought it was wonderful. I thought it was a lot of good information." commented Linda Wieser, a resident of Mahone Bay.