Check for ticks after going to the park, says Montreal woman with Lyme disease
Planning to pass time in Montreal's many parks this summer? Check yourself for ticks, warns one woman who recently contracted Lyme disease.
Jasmine Rochereul, 23, says she spent much of last summer sprawled in city parks, where she believes she picked up the tick-borne illness.
"All we did was hang out in the park, but I didn't know Lyme disease was around in Montreal," she said. "I'd always been told, you know, high grass, very wooded areas."
An infection is usually spotted by a telltale sign: a small rash in the shape of a bullseye.
But Rochereul says she wasn't on the lookout for ticks, as she hadn't been in any forested areas.
In fact, she says she hadn't left the island in the year leading up to the onset of symptoms.
She spent much of her time in the popular, well-maintained lawns at Jeanne Mance and Mount Royal parks, which she says are the most likely infection points.
HOW RARE ARE TICKS IN MONTREAL?
While it may be unusual to spot a tick in the city, the disease-carrying black-legged (deer) tick is found throughout southern Quebec, says McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) infectious disease specialist Dr. Donald Vinh.
But that hasn't always been the case.
Before 2010, "it was in very discrete pockets of Quebec, or maybe even mostly acquired outside of Quebec. But somewhere along the way, probably from a variety of things like climate change and invasion into other ecological habitats, what happens is that you have this tick carrying this bacteria that's endemic throughout Quebec," said Vinh.
Warmer winters allow ticks to survive and thrive, which the province attributes to a rise in Lyme disease cases over the past decade.
The starkest change happened between 2020 and 2021, when cases jumped from 274 to 709, according to provincial data.
That doesn't mean the risk is the same everywhere. Vinh says Quebec's Eastern Townships and Montérégie regions are the hotspots.
In June 2022, Rochereul says she started to feel the flu coming on. She had muscle aches, a tight jaw, and trouble with concentration and memory.
So began a yearlong battle with debilitating symptoms and a frustrating slog through Quebec's health-care system.
She first saw a private clinic doctor, who ran a general blood panel and checked for mono.
"She basically dismissed me and said, 'No, you're fine.' That agitated me. And then she told me to stop being hysterical," said Rochereul.
The disease went undiagnosed for six months, until she visited family in the U.S. and saw a doctor who ran a test for Lyme, which came back positive.
She started taking antibiotics and searching for a specialist in Quebec who could help her.
Rochereul, who does not have a family doctor, says she dealt with a string of cancelled appointments at walk-in clinics until she finally found a doctor who could help, or so she thought.
"He told me he couldn't sign a referral to an infectious disease specialist because I would need a specialist to sign that referral."
That frustrating Catch-22 led her to an infectious disease walk-in clinic, where she had more blood work done.
Weeks later, she got a surprising call from a Quebec health official trying to track where she got the disease.
She was then referred to a new clinic that treats long COVID and Lyme symptoms. But she hasn't been able to get an appointment.
"I heard from the doctors I've seen that they might be already scheduled for December," Rochereul said.
In May, nearly one year after the onset of symptoms and two rounds of antibiotics, she was told the situation was not looking good.
People treated with antibiotics usually make a quick and full recovery from the disease. However, if it's not detected quickly, it can lead to problems with your joints, heart, and neurological system.
For Rochereul, her next step is intravenous antibiotics, a semi-permanent catheter that she'll need for up to a month.
It's the latest step in a frustrating saga that has impacted nearly every facet of her life, she says.
Rochereul, who had just graduated from university when her symptoms began, says intense fatigue and other symptoms have forced her to take time off work and scale back her social life.
She hopes sharing her story will help others avoid the same situation.
“Do your tick checks. When you go into the park with friends or something, ask them to check behind the nape of your neck or like places you can’t see when you leave the park.”
LOOK OUT FOR LYME
Tick bites are painless and often go unnoticed. If you're bitten, remove the tick as soon as possible.
Not all bites lead to Lyme. A "specific constellation of features" needs to be in place to get infected, says Vinh. Notably, the tick needs to feed on a human for about 36 to 48 hours.
The first symptom is usually a skin rash at the site of the bite that lasts a couple of days.
You're advised to call Info-Sante or see a doctor if the rash is five centimetres in diameter or larger, lasts more than 48 hours, or you're experiencing other symptoms.