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Lyme disease documentary takes bite out of fallacies

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Experts are in agreement deer ticks cause Lyme disease.

GABRIEL LEVESQUE PHOTO Enlarge Image

Experts are in agreement deer ticks cause Lyme disease.

Well, this really bites.

And it turns the fact that it does can now be considered pretty darned dangerous for Canadians.

When the "this" that's biting is a deer tick, the end result can be a dose of Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating illness many people still wrongly believe is not something we Canucks need to worry about.

But as the new documentary Ticked Off: The Mystery of Lyme Disease explains, Lyme disease and the deer ticks that carry it are no longer limited in range to the warmer climes of the United States. Thanks to the expanding population of deer ticks, aided perhaps by climate change that has made the north-of-the-border environment more receptive to the tiny, blood-sucking pests, Lyme disease is now very much a Canadian problem.

Ticked Off was produced by locally based Merit Motion Pictures and features several Winnipeggers who have either been directly affected by Lyme disease or are actively involved in Lyme-related medical treatment or research.

It's a fascinating -- but in no way comforting -- examination of a disease that continues to claim ever higher numbers of victims while the medical and scientific communities hotly debate treatment options, ethical issues and, on some levels, whether the long-lingering chronic form of Lyme disease even exists.

There is little argument deer ticks carry Lyme disease, and that humans who are bitten by deer ticks -- which are now well established in most parts of Canada -- can contract it as a result of those bites. Also not in question is the medical protocol that states Lyme disease, if diagnosed early, can usually be cured with two to four weeks of antibiotics.

Where the debate becomes muddied and two very divergent schools of thought emerge is in the discussion of Lyme disease's longer-term effects. Some physicians and researchers believe if the infection is not detected early, it can develop into chronic Lyme disease, which can have severe physical and neurological effects and (in the opinion of those who believe it exists) may require months or even years of heavy antibiotic treatment to control.

Ticked Off features interviews with several doctors and many chronic Lyme sufferers whose conditions seem self-evident, but it also includes the perspectives of scientists who maintain there simply isn't enough data to prove chronic Lyme is a legitimate diagnosis.

If you've been directly affected by Lyme disease, these parts of Ticked Off will likely leave you feeling rather, well, ticked off. Watching footage of people struggling with the severe long-term effects of a simple tick bite seems to provide ample proof Lyme disease is here, is real, and should be taken seriously.

In broader terms, Ticked Off serves as a useful cautionary tale for all of us outdoorsy Canucks who now have something other than mosquitoes and West Nile to fear when we venture outside to enjoy our fleeting few summer months.

Yeah, I know. It really does bite.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2013 C3

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Updated on Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 11:29 AM CDT: Corrects air time

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