Local researchers launch survey on tick bites
Researchers at Queen’s University want more information about the patient experience for people who have been bitten by ticks.
Emilie Norris-Roozmon, an MSc Candidate in biology, said she’s launched an anonymous online survey to track patterns in the symptoms associated with tick bites, and try to understand the steps people go through during diagnoses of tick-borne disease in Ontario.
She says the survey is for anyone who has been bitten by a tick, no matter how mild their experience.
“Maybe the tick was latched for less than 24 hours and they didn’t even need to see a doctor,” she said, “all the way through to people who have been diagnosed with tick-borne disease.”
“Whether symptoms are severe or mild to non-existent,” Norris-Roozmon continued “we think this kind of data is valuable and underutilized in the study of tick-borne infections.”
One participant in the study, she said, had 23 diagnoses from 15 doctors and several years before finally being informed they had Lyme Disease. Another had seen 27 doctors over 15 years.
She said doctors currently use multiple methods to diagnose Lyme Disease, depending on factors such as whether or not the patient saw or removed the tick themselves.
“It’s not just being bitten by a tick, or just a confirmatory test,” she said.
Sometimes having symptoms as well as evidence of being in an area known to have disease-carrying ticks leads to diagnosis.
Ticks themselves may also carry a variety of diseases and pathogenic bacteria, she said, which can complicate the way diseases present or behave in different people.
“It just means that the diagnosis and the care for people who experience tick-borne illness is that much harder,” she said.
“There seems to be a growing disconnect between some patients and the diagnoses they receive,” said Dr. Robert Colautti, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Rapid Evolution at Queen’s University. “That alone is not evidence that we are missing something important, but I think it’s worth trying to quantify.”
So far, 520 people have completed the survey, about half as many participants as Norris-Roozmon said she is aiming for.
“Ticks are present once temperatures are consistently above four degrees celsius,” she explained, noting that she plans to keep the survey open until roughly November.
With many people self-isolating because of Covid-19, avoiding crowds, or away from their normal work places, she said its possibility there will be more outdoor activity and exposure to ticks in Ontario this summer.
Public Health Ontario started tracking cases of Lyme Disease in 2009. In 2017, public health units confirmed the highest number of confirmed cases at 978. In 2018, there were 572.
Norris-Roozmon’s study is part of an integrated research program on tick-borne diseases funded by Canada’s Federal Tri-Agency. She said she and her colleagues are hopeful that their integrated approach will improve diagnosis of tick-borne disease in Ontario.
Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community.
This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.