This article is sponsored by Geneticks
As an avid outdoorsman, Justin Wood spent his summers tree planting in the northern Ontario wilderness. A lover of the outdoors and science, he moved to Calgary in 2010 for the mountains and to pursue a master’s degree in genetics and molecular biology at the University of Calgary. Sports and outdoor adventure were his life—until a bite from a tiny arachnid stole his mobility, cognitive abilities and deteriorated his quality of life.
Beginning with acute neurological issues, Justin’s symptoms progressed in severity and breadth until he was unable to participate in athletics, academics, work or take care of himself. He experienced extreme constant headaches, brain fog, cognitive impairment, sensitivity to stimulation, insomnia, joint pain, muscle pain, spasms and tremors, heart palpitations and extreme fatigue.
It took over 20 doctors, four years and an international blood test to diagnose the culprit: Lyme disease. Although Lyme disease is the most common tick-born infection in Canada, it is vastly under-detected.
Justin in 2011 before contracting Lyme disease, competing in the 24-hours of Adrenaline race in Canmore, AB
“After the Canadian Lyme disease test came back negative, I was tested internationally and it came back positive,” Justin explains. “I finally had an explanation that made sense.”
After the diagnosis, Justin was able to begin antibiotic treatment. “The treatments worked, so it became quite clear Lyme disease was the issue,” Justin says.
Lyme disease was first discovered in the 1970s following a cluster of tick-borne arthritic illnesses in the small town of Lyme, Connecticut. "Since its discovery, Lyme disease has grown in to a global epidemic, seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases every year in North America alone," adds Justin. "As climate change continues to lead to an increase in tick populations in Canada, both tick encounters and the incidence of tick-borne diseases are on the rise."
After treatment for Lyme disease, Justin was able to use his background in biology to found Geneticks
In 2017, Justin started Geneticks, the first private lab in Canada dedicated to providing rapid results about the presence of tick-borne pathogens in individually submitted ticks. Using the expertise from his master's degree and his experience with Lyme disease, he aspires to grow awareness about the risks of Lyme and tick-borne diseases while providing a comprehensive and reliable option for rapid tick testing.
“I’ve always loved biology. After going through my journey with Lyme disease, I thought it made sense to work in a field that allowed me to help with this massive problem. One need that I noticed was the ability to know quickly if you’d been exposed, and then decide the next steps with your health care provider. People in the Lyme disease community—from health care practitioners to advocates to scientists—were very supportive.”
Justin wants outdoor adventurers to know how severe Lyme disease can be and to be aware of preventative measures. “Our overall goal at Geneticks is to reduce the number of new Lyme disease cases in Canada every year,” he says. “Lyme disease can cost you so much: your health, finances and quality of life.”
Canadians across the country can send in ticks (live or dead—but preferably dead) that bit them for Lyme disease testing. Geneticks also offers "Common Infections" testing, which tests for the seven most common tick-borne pathogens (including tick-born relapsing fever, human granulocytic anaplasmosis and more) or "Comprehensive" testing, which covers a total of 14 pathogens found in North American tick species (including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and more).
To educate the public, Geneticks is also working on releasing a public map that shows, in real time, where infected ticks are coming from.
Five years after his diagnosis, Justin is just beginning to regain some semblance of his life before contracting Lyme disease. “It’s been a slow shift, but I can finally go paddle boarding, biking, hiking and swimming. I hope Geneticks can help with research and awareness, so everyone has a better chance of detecting Lyme disease faster.”
To us at Geneticks, it is essential that people continue to love and experience the outdoors. It is our goal to both spread awareness about ticks and tick-borne diseases and offer individuals who have been affected by tick bites a rapid, comprehensive and reliable service to help them assess their exposure and inform early treatments.
This article was sponsored by Geneticks