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B.C. funds study of fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue

Health officials in British Columbia announced $2 million for a study and new centre that will focus on screening, diagnoses and treatment of patients with fibromyalgia, Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The goal of the study and a new clinic initiated by the Ministry of Health and Provincial Health Services Authority is to accurately diagnose the complicated conditions, and provide treatment and ongoing symptom management to patients.

Ryan Jabs, spokesman for the Health Ministry, said the plan has been in the works for quite some time but was announced now to address recent public concern that the province lacked proper health infrastructure to diagnose and treat patients with chronic illness.

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B.C. doctors have been accused of drastically under-diagnosing Lyme disease, in particular, and failing to report the cases that are diagnosed, as required.

In the past many Canadian patients sought treatment for these conditions in the United States, but Jabs said the new centre will educate local doctors on what to look for.

Jabs said it will be a hub for provincial family doctors and will provide an educational component so medical practitioners can accurately recognize and diagnose the chronic conditions.

"There's considerable debate around the medical community, internationally and locally, on diagnosis and treatment of these types of complex illnesses because there are a lot of symptoms that overlap," he said.

"They're rarer conditions and there's not a centre of expertise. The clinic will help that."

He said exact details regarding the scope of the study and clinic are in the works, but aren't expected until the summer. Officials hope to have the study up and running up the fall.

Health Minister Mike de Jong said the additional funds mean B.C. will take a leading role in this area of research.

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"I hope that B.C. can help to positively impact patients across the country by studying these illnesses and learning ways to help patients manage their symptoms," he said in a news release announcing the funding.

Currently, the cause of these debilitating illnesses is unknown, though doctors suspect an infectious agent may play a key role in a patient's development of chronic diseases.

Recent genome science breakthroughs in DNA sequencing and computer analysis have doctors hoping they'll have some answers to these complex health issues soon.

About 343,000 Canadians are afflicted with fibromyalgia, a condition that results in chronic pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints, poor sleep and fatigue. Women are approximately 17 per cent more likely than men to develop the illness, according to the federal public health website.

Others with acute Lyme disease were able to be treated with antibiotics to prevent the development of chronic Lyme disease, but in some cases the medication does not prevent the onslaught of the chronic condition.

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