Dec. 21, 2018
The Chronicle Herald
The following statement is false. You can only get Lyme disease from a black-legged tick. The next two statements are true. You can pass Lyme disease to your unborn baby. Your baby can suffer very serious adverse outcomes, including from miscarriage, stillbirth, and newborn death, as well as serious neurological development issues, and various other illnesses and developmental delays/issues as a result of Lyme infection during pregnancy.
Earlier this fall, on Nov. 12, a new, peer reviewed research article was published in the highly reputable science and medical journal PLOS ONE. It was authored by several senior Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) scientists and one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist. The paper unequivocally acknowledged mother-to-fetus (transplacental) transmission of Lyme disease as a fact.
This newly published paper also looked at case reports and studies from the past 30-plus years and found that there was a significant statistical difference in adverse outcomes for baby if the mother was infected with Lyme and had been untreated during pregnancy.
In their meta-analysis of several studies, 50 per cent of untreated women experienced fetal adverse outcomes compared to 11 per cent of treated women. In those cases, the authors state:
“Across 59 cases, negative outcomes for the fetus or newborn occurred in 61 per cent of pregnancies … (they) ranged from spontaneous miscarriage … fetal death and stillbirth … and death shortly following birth … to a range of congenital abnormalities and health issues.“
This is beyond alarming. It is an extremely important paper. And yet, not a word in the press, or notification to our doctors, nor, most importantly, to the public.
As far back as 1986, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC acknowledged mother-to-fetus transmission, and warned of possible adverse outcomes for baby. In June 1988, Health Canada released its own report acknowledging the same thing.
Nobody did anything. The information just sat there, hiding in plain sight.
In the summer of this year, the federal parliament of France, the Assemblée Nationale, issued a statement from the minister of health acknowledging mother-to-fetus transmission of Lyme disease.
And the WHO, after almost 10 years of considering the evidence, earlier this year (June 2018) issued a new International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code for congenital Lyme borreliosis (meaning babies born with Lyme disease) for physicians around the world. But on Monday (Dec. 17), the new WHO ICD-11 code for congenital Lyme borreliosis was the only code to be suddenly deleted from more than 55,000 new ICD-11 codes. At this point, it’s unclear why.
Something very strange and very unsettling is happening.
Where is Canada on this issue? Why isn’t Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada saying anything? Why aren’t our public health departments and health authorities notifying doctors, women and parents-to-be of this very important issue? There should be national outrage over this appalling state of affairs regarding the non-notification of mother-to-fetus infection of Lyme disease. It is, actually, scandalous that the authorities have kept this from the public.
This mode of transmission changes everything.
Since 2014, I have corresponded on many Lyme issues with Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer for Nova Scotia, and Dr. Todd Hatchette, chief microbiologist for the Nova Scotia Health Authority and an infectious diseases doctor. They either denied that transplacental Lyme disease exists, or they refused to discuss it with me. They have both been provided with much of the 30-plus years of evidence, the same evidence considered by the scientists in the PLOS ONE article, the same evidence considered by the WHO, the CDC and PHAC.
At a meeting I attended at the Department of Health and Wellness on Sept. 1, 2016, I even had autopsy reports and photographs of babies with unequivocal evidence of the Lyme disease bacteria in their tissues and organs — everybody at the table declined to look at this evidence. As difficult and heartbreaking as such material is, this kind of behaviour from a department responsible for our health is unacceptable, and contributes to perpetuating the problem of no action.
It has been suggested by me, many times, that our doctors, and the public, be notified of the fact of mother-to-baby transmission of Lyme disease. All of my requests have been refused. On May 31, 2016, I was even told by Strang,
“I will no longer be responding to inquiries from you.”
It is despicable that the alarm has not been raised. And by not doing so, it could be argued, much unnecessary pain and suffering has been caused to many women, parents and children.
In a recent email (Oct. 23) Strang wrote to me regarding the above PLOS ONE research article, he stated,
“As you may be aware from the recent Lyme Hope meeting with PHAC, our national Public Health Agency has recently completed a comprehensive review of the evidence on Lyme disease in pregnancy. This review is undergoing peer review as part of possible publication. My public health practice will certainly follow the outcomes of this work.”
What Strang did not know when he sent me that email was that I was actually at that meeting with Lyme Hope and PHAC on Oct. 5 in Ottawa. I advised Strang of this fact, and of the fact that the scientists around the table, as well as one MD at that meeting, plus two MDs on the phone (a pediatric Lyme disease specialist, and an internal medicine specialist), the president of PHAC, and the director of the Infectious Diseases Branch, PHAC, all agreed that transplacental transmission was possible. Strang’s next response to me was, “I will not engage in an ongoing dialogue with you regarding this issue.” Appalling!
Strang is now silent on this issue. He has not made any public statement since the publication of the research article, neither has he responded to my last article on Lyme disease (“Lyme disease tunnel vision: Provincial authorities must expand horizons, review medial evidence”) published by The Chronicle Herald on Nov. 3. Why this silence? There is no getting around this, no “positive spin” can be put on this. The public, and our doctors, need to know. Shame on him. He, too, has the suffering of many on his conscience; or he should have.
With regard to mother-to-baby Lyme disease, doctors and women should know that babies and children present with symptoms very differently from adults.
For those of you reading who may have concerns regarding possible transplacental (mother-to-child) transmission of Lyme disease, I would direct you to the LymeHope.ca resources web-page. There you will find many credible and reputable resources and evidence that you can use to take to your doctor and discuss your concerns.
Jane Bailey lives in Wolfville. She has science and education diplomas and is a member of The Royal Society for Public Health.