21. Sarah and Tim Tchida talk tick safety in treeplanting

What can employers do to protect staff who work in the outdoors? In today’s podcast, Sarah explores some answers to that question with Tim Tchida, Owner and CEO of Summit Reforestation in Smithers BC. When Tim first heard about Lyme disease, he never imagined getting the disease himself. Tim recalls first learning he had Lyme disease after receiving a positive Canadian Lyme test (western blot) following mild symptoms of the disease. As time went on, he realized how fortunate he was to receive a diagnosis in light of so many others who have found it very challenging to receive a Lyme diagnosis in Canada. 

Tim acknowledges those who may go for years or even decades, seeing multiple physicians simply to receive a correct diagnosis. He believes that international labs such as Armin lab in Germany, are able to provide more accurate and appropriate testing. Unfortunately, Tim soon came to realize that many physicians did not acknowledge how serious Lyme disease and co-infections can be. As a consequence, he was unable to receive adequate treatment in Canada, and sought treatment in both the United States and Germany, which to date has cost him over $300,000.00. Although grateful to have the resources to seek treatment outside of the public health system, he points out that many people are unable to do so. 

“If there’s an imbedded tick…knowing what that tick carried would be such a leg up on treatment.”

Tim Tchida, Summit Planting

Where are ticks in British Columbia? Although they could be found anywhere, Tim has found them to be more common in areas south of 100 Mile House or Kamloops. Despite spending his career out in the forest, and contracting Lyme disease through a tick bite, he recalls that the only time he found a tick on himself was long after his diagnosis, during a camping trip. He has developed comprehensive protocols within his company which include what to do after a tick bite. He describes the process of labelling and storing the tick, monitoring for signs and symptoms as well as the option of having the tick tested for pathogens.

Another way that Tim is working to protect his employees is through a tick and Lyme awareness program. He points out that awareness in the medical community and in the general public about the consequences of Lyme disease is also important. He brings us encouraging news that, in the past five years, awareness of Lyme disease has increased in companies such as his and within the industry’s association. He encourages employees to do a self search and buddy-assisted search at the end of each work day. Employees and first aid attendants are also educated about how to properly remove, identify and store ticks for testing. He points out the value of knowing which pathogens could potentially be found in an embedded tick.

Although Tim is aware of individual company training programs as well as group conversations and meetings with industry licensees and contractors about ticks and Lyme disease, he hasn’t heard of any industry level training programs at this time. He points out the importance of organizations such as the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), operating as WorkSafeBC, to increase awareness, education and thus prevention of tick-borne illnesses.

“The more we speak about this and are aware of it, the more comfortable you are in being out in nature.”

Tim Tchida, Summit Planting

Nationally across Canada, organizations such as WorkSafe BC could certainly be influential in awareness and training. 

Tim believes that better mapping of vector-borne illnesses in BC, Alberta and across Canada is an important first step toward understanding the problem. Within his industry he looks forward to the day when real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing on-site is available for Lyme disease, as well as better education and better early treatment protocols. He encourages sharing protocols and information that will help others better understand ticks and Lyme disease. He is encouraged with the sharing of information that is currently happening within his industry and has noted a big shift towards increased awareness in the past five years.

 “The fact that I’ve had to battle through Lyme disease for five years and how horrific it was… it was absolutely incapacitating. For me, I moved from the ability to run a 500 person company to the inability to buy broccoli at the grocery store.”

Tim Tchida, Summit Planting

Tim’s own devastating ordeal with Lyme disease drives him to share information and protocols, and to educate others. Tim explains how he went from running a company of 500 employees before his illness, to not being able to buy food at the grocery store. He points out that understanding the consequences of the disease along with increased awareness are important to prevention. He mentions the shift in the industry over the past five years as awareness in the field has increased. Businesses have shared policies, developed standard processes for acute treatment, and provided training opportunities through organizations such as the Western Forestry Contractors’ Association. 

Tim reiterates that ticks carrying Lyme disease are indeed present in northern BC, and notes that he still works in the field but now with a much greater awareness about how to protect himself and his employees from Lyme disease. Thank you Tim for leading the way, not only within the reforestation industry, but as an example of what everyone can do to stay safe in the outdoors!

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