Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to an issue as important as Lyme disease. I would like to acknowledge the work of my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands in bringing forward this very important initiative.
This disease is spreading in Canada, and it is expected to continue to spread in years to come. That is why we have to act quickly. Bill C-442, the bill introduced by my colleague, is a step in that direction.
As was said before, Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted through tick bites. In addition to causing serious symptoms, the disease can cause serious health consequences, affecting the joints, the heart and even the nervous system.
In Canada, ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are found in the southern parts of Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia, as well as in some regions in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec. In Quebec, ticks that carry the bacterium are found in the Montérégie region in particular.
The Bulletin québécois de vigie et d'intervention des maladies infectieuses, produced by the Bureau de surveillance et de vigie of the Direction de la protection de la santé publique, shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of Lyme disease cases in Montérégie.
In 2012, the number of cases increased considerably, going from 16 in 2007 to 43 in 2011. My riding is in that region, and I am greatly concerned by Health Canada's inaction in containing the spread of the bacterium.
Today, Mont-Saint-Bruno is a risk area, where many ticks spreading the disease can be found. We must start a national campaign to warn Canadians that these ticks exist in their region.
As early as 2008, a New Democratic member of Parliament, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, was asking the minister of health to implement a strategy to protect Canadians against an increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease. Her requests fell on deaf ears. However, five years later, we are seeing the disease progress exponentially.
At the time, the government turned a deaf ear. Now it can no longer deny the urgency of the situation. Lyme disease will continue to spread, because it goes hand in hand with global warming. Winters are not as cold as they once were, allowing the ticks to survive more easily. Inevitably, more places will become risk areas.
We must therefore be proactive in establishing a national medical surveillance program to track incidence rates, a solution proposed in Bill C-442.
Since 2009, Lyme disease has been a nationally reportable disease. That means that all medical professionals must report cases of Lyme disease to the Public Health Agency of Canada through the provincial public health system. This imperative must go hand in hand with preventive measures and programs tailored to public health needs. However, nothing specific has been done to date.
We have heard testimony from those suffering from Lyme disease who have had to deal with ignorance of the disease on the part of some doctors. The observation is alarming, but doctors are overlooking the disease because the blood tests used to diagnose it are very unreliable.
Existing diagnostic tests are effective when Lyme disease is spread, but not when it is in the early stages. Furthermore, people with Lyme disease are often misdiagnosed.
A number of specialists believe that the ELISA tests used in Canada are inadequate. A recent study at Johns Hopkins University, one of the most prestigious medical schools in the United States, showed that the ELISA test protocol for Lyme disease could not even detect the disease in 75% of patients. That is not right. The federal government needs to show some leadership on health care and needs to find ways to better protect Canadians' health by coming up with more effective and efficient solutions.
Canadians need a national Lyme disease strategy, which is why I strongly support Bill C-442, which was introduced by my colleague. This bill is effective. It proposes some guidelines for preventing, diagnosing, treating and managing the disease, as well as for creating and distributing educational material for health care professionals.
There is little documentation on people affected by Lyme disease, and their health care is often mismanaged. Research to improve the diagnostic process should be a priority so that we can prevent incorrect diagnoses.
Such a strategy has been needed for a long time. Canadians' health cannot take a back seat. The government needs to roll up its sleeves and work with the provinces to adopt measures to control this pandemic. Now is the time to take action. I fully support Bill C-442, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.