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Targeting ticks: Lyme forum focuses on awareness

State Rep. John Shaban, the Weston Westport Health District and BLAST, a Lyme disease prevention program, want to ensure that Weston residents are knowledgeable about and cautious of Lyme disease exposure this summer.

A Lyme disease forum was hosted at the Weston Public Library on Thursday, July 26. It consisted of several presentations on prevention and treatment methods for Lyme.

Mr. Shaban said the goal of the forum was to “get Lyme disease back on people’s radars as more and more people are becoming impacted by it.”

BLAST, a Lyme awareness program based in Ridgefield, sent Program Coordinator Jennifer Reid to speak about methods of prevention. Ms. Reid outlined the symptoms of Lyme disease, which usually appear within two to 30 days after an infected tick bite. The only way to get symptoms and become infected with the disease however, is to have an infected tick attached for at least 48 hours.

Symptoms

Because Lyme’s symptoms are so general and associated with many other types of illness, it can be a difficult condition for doctors to diagnose, particularly if they are not from the Northeast where the disease is most prevalent.

The initial symptoms can be as common as fever, fatigue, headache and muscle ache, until the disease progresses undiagnosed and becomes less elusive.

If left untreated, it begins to attack organ systems within the body. This can lead to extremely dangerous and painful conditions including Bell’s palsy, meningitis, arthritis, heart block and rhythm abnormality.

The most glaring indicator of Lyme is a red rash that often takes the form of a bull’s-eye, but doesn’t always appear on those who have contracted the disease.

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease and is carried by ticks — insects Weston is no stranger to. Ticks like to live in shady, moist areas and their numbers — and therefore the number of infected ticks — increases during the summer months. So people who go outside to enjoy the summer weather are especially at risk for Lyme disease.

Prevention

The five letters that make up the BLAST program’s name have special significance and enforce the program’s goal to spread Lyme awareness (they stand for Bathing, Looking, Applying, Spraying and Treating).

The steps to prevent Lyme , according to the program’s acronym, include bathing after spending time outdoors, looking for ticks and rashes after potential exposure to ticks, applying tick repellent before going outside, spraying the edge of back yards with tick pesticide, and treating pets by applying repellents and giving regular them tick checks.

Controversy 

There was a controversy at the forum about the use of tick-killing pesticides in backyards.

Deidre Doran, chairman of Weston’s Sustainability Committee, said pesticides used to prevent ticks in previous years have probably seeped into residents’ well water.

“We need to find a way to balance people spraying pesticides to prevent Lyme with the safety of our well water,” said Ms. Doran.

In response, Ms. Reid of the BLAST program said a single application of the outdoor pesticide would be enough to ward off ticks without polluting Weston’s water.

The main problem concerning outdoor protection is that pesticide companies often require customers to pay for up to five sprays per season. “I know the reason for that,” said Ms. Doran. “Money.”

Another form of Lyme prevention discussed at the forum was the use of a device known as a “four poster” deer feeding station. This station simultaneously attracts deer to feed while applying tickicide the back of their necks.

Studies have determined that the “four poster” effectively reduces the number of ticks in a given area, but doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of infected humans.

Monica Wheeler of the Weston Westport Health District advised those who believe they may be experiencing early symptoms of Lyme disease to get treatment as soon as possible. “If it’s treated early, then there’s a greater chance of it being cured right away,” she said.

She also explained that the blood tests given for Lyme are not always reliable. “If you think you have Lyme, let your doctor know,” she said.

Although Lyme disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states, outside of the East Coast Lyme is not as well known, and is even more likely to be misdiagnosed because many doctors haven’t heard of it. Ms. Wheeler said out-of-state visitors to the East Coast are more susceptible to infection because of their lack of Lyme awareness.

Treatment

The treatment for Lyme disease in its early stages is most commonly antibiotics, but as time goes on with the condition undiagnosed, it becomes harder to treat.

While there is currently an effective Lyme vaccination for dogs, there is no source of immunity for humans. The human vaccine for the disease was discontinued in 2002 due to the uncomfortable, Lyme-like symptoms it caused for those who were vaccinated.

While many are hopeful current Lyme research may lead to a new and improved vaccine, the presenters at the forum said they believe the only way to target Lyme at the moment is through awareness.

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