Lyme disease particular problem for beekeepers

It’s a mysterious and mostly unknown disease but can be a career ender for farmers in eastern Manitoba.

Paul Gregory, a beekeeping industry spokesperson, said Lyme disease has made dozens of beekeepers sick in the province. In some areas, the infection rate verges on 10 percent, he added.

“Several of my beekeeping friends are suffering from chronic Lyme disease,” Gregory told Theresa Oswald, Manitoba’s former health minister and current economy minister, after her speech at the Keystone Agricultural Producers annual conference.

Oswald agreed with Gregory’s concern but said it was a vexing issue for her when she was health minister because medical experts and scientist are divided over how to detect, understand and treat the disease.

“There are some very profound and entrenched philosophical differences about detection, about testing, about protocols,” said Oswald.

Gregory said farmers want the government to make in-province testing a priority because right now samples have to be sent to California, even though treatment, when required, needs to be done quickly.

Oswald said she would ensure the government remembers that the issue hasn’t been resolved.

“Now is not the time to drag our foot off the gas on Lyme disease, because it is devastating and we need our medical professionals to get together and decide what is absolutely best for Manitobans,” said Oswald.

Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks, which are common in the forested eastern fringe of southeastern Manitoba.

Once in a human victim, the disease often spreads and inflicts damage to the brain and nervous system. A quick treatment of antibiotics before the disease becomes established, is believed to be successful in many cases.

Beekeepers are particularly vulnerable to deer ticks because they work in bushy areas for extended times, often covered in all sorts of bugs.

Gregory said all farmers in those areas are vulnerable to the disease, revealed by the fact that it is common there but scarcely heard about elsewhere on the Prairies.

“It is almost endemic,” he said in an interview.

“Either their family members or neighbours or themselves have either acute or chronic Lyme disease.”

Oswald said the health department has established a group of experts, some of whom disagree about the disease, to reach a consensus that allows for better diagnosis and treatment.

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