An 11-year-old Ontario girl who suffers from arthritis caused by Lyme disease is warning parents about the possible effects of an untreated tick-bite infection.

Kiara Neill was bitten by an infected tick when she was four-years-old. Soon after, the little girl developed a high fever – a symptom her mother, Melanie LeClaire, didn’t know at the time was an early sign of Lyme disease.

“We had her to the doctors five times not knowing what was wrong with her,” LeClaire told CTV News.

Neill was eventually hospitalized for nine days. She was diagnosed with Lyme disease and was prescribed powerful antibiotics to fight the bacteria that had infiltrated her joints. The disease, however, had already left its mark on Neill, stealing years from her childhood.

The 11-year-old suffered from extreme fatigue and pain that is sometimes associated with Lyme disease. She was unable to bike, run and even play video games.

“I missed out (on) seven years of my childhood and I can’t get it back,” she told CTV News.

About 10 to 20 per cent of Lyme disease patients experience lingering symptoms of the illness despite undergoing treatment, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. They include fatigue, pain, and joint and muscle aches.

Symptons of Lyme disease usually occur in three stages:

  • Stage one: An expanding “bull’s-eye” shaped rash at the site of the tick bite. It generally appears three days to one month after the bite. Other signs include fatigue, chills, fever, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Stage two: If left untreated, patients may experience central and peripheral nervous system disorders, multiple skin rashes, heart palpitations, and extreme fatigue and general weakness.
  • Stage three: The final stage of the disease can last from months to years. Symptoms include neurological problems and recurring arthritis.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Arthritis Rheumatology, researchers at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax found that undiagnosed Lyme disease infections are leading to an increasing number of cases of arthritis among children in Nova Scotia. (hyperlink to previous article).

In the study, researchers found that 76 per cent of the patients did not recall having a tick bite, and they all lived in areas known for having black-legged ticks that carry Borrelia burgdoferi, the bacteria which causes the illness.

“A study like that just highlights for everyone that (Lyme disease) can affect a vulnerable subset of individuals who spend a lot of time outside,” Robbin Lindsay, a Public Health Agency of Canada scientist, told CTV News.

Officials are also concerned disease-carrying ticks have been moving deeper into Canada.

Lyme disease exposure is highest in southern British Columbia, parts of southwestern Manitoba, southern and eastern Ontario, southern and southeastern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The illness’s possible growing reach has prompted the Public Health Agency of Canada to launch a Lyme disease campaign in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, Neill is warning parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.

“If parents ever find ticks on their kids, bring them to see a doctor,” she said.

To learn more about Lyme disease, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada.

With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip