Mr. Speaker, Canadians need a national strategy on Lyme disease to ensure that testing and treatment options in Canada are improved.
This legislation lays out a concise plan for educating Canadians about disease risks and most important, provides a better quality of life for Lyme disease sufferers.
Lyme disease is caused by contact with the bacterium spread by tick bites. Ticks are small parasites that feed on the blood of animals and humans, and they pass on Lyme disease when they feed on mice, squirrels, birds, or other animals that carry the bacterium, and then bite humans. Ticks are more common during the warmer months from spring through to late autumn. Canadians who live in areas with mild winter temperatures and minimal snowfall have an increased risk of coming into contact with ticks.
Climate change is one of the factors causing more regions to be at risk, with warmer weather increasing tick distribution across many parts of Canada.
Bill C-442 is especially important to British Columbian coastal communities, as Lyme disease is currently more of a concern on Canada's west coast due to its mild temperatures.
Lyme disease symptoms can include a circular rash around the bite, fatigue, fever, headache, weakness, abnormal heartbeat, muscle and joint pain, and central and peripheral nervous system disorders. Symptoms get progressively worse if the disease is left untreated, which it is for many Canadians. Chronic Lyme can develop if the disease is left untreated and can have lasting effects for months or years afterwards, and according to Health Canada, can result in recurring arthritis and neurological problems.
In 2008, NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis urged the health minister to implement a national strategy to diagnose, treat, and create better surveillance of Lyme disease. I am proud of the member for Vancouver East, our official opposition health critic, who has continued to call for a national Lyme disease strategy since that time and seconded Bill C-442 when it was introduced by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
This strategy is long overdue. Canadians deserve to get adequate testing and treatment for this disease. The federal government is responsible for improving the surveillance of Lyme disease as well as establishing best practices so that the provinces can understand the disease and adopt evidence-based measures that improve outcomes.
The bottom line is that receiving early and appropriate treatment would improve the quality of life for thousands of Canadians and their families. Early treatment of Lyme disease reduces the severity and duration of illness. More accurate testing and earlier treatment of Lyme disease would reduce the health care costs associated with a lengthy illness and more severe side effects, particularly for women who suffer long-lasting side effects when their Lyme disease goes untreated.
The New Democrats have been working with Canadians in support of a national strategy on Lyme disease for years now. Now is the time for the federal government to adopt such a strategy to protect the health and safety of Canadians in the face of this rapidly spreading disease.
I urge all members to support the bill.