CLAVERACK — Columbia County residents are getting ticked off about Lyme disease and so is Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106.
Barrett and the Claverack Free Library hosted an informational event about the disease Sunday at the A.B. Shaw Firehouse. Barrett was joined by Columbia Memorial Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Ananthakrishnan Ramani, Columbia County Department of Health Public Health Educator Victoria McGahan and Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association Chairwoman Jill Auerbach.
The event was held as part of Barrett’s social media campaign dubbed “#GetTickedOff,” to help spread awareness of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, Barrett said. It encourages residents to advocate for more funding and education in tick-borne disease prevention.
“What we’re seeing is that Columbia County, while we have a high incidence of Lyme and tick-borne disease, the community itself has not been engaged,” Barrett said after the event. “Dutchess County has a very robust tick task force.”
The disease is named after Lyme, a town in Connecticut where it was first discovered, and several hundred cases are reported in the Twin Counties every year, Ramani said. In 2002, there were more than 1,000 reported cases.
“We think there’s more than that, it’s underreported in the U.S.,” Ramani said. “Only 20 percent is being reported in Columbia County.”
Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterial species, causes Lyme disease when a tick bites into the skin, Ramani said. Ticks pull blood out of the skin, spit it out and suck more blood — this process gets people infected.
“It’s like when you go to the hospital to the lab, they draw your blood, the lab tech puts a needle in your arm and pulls blood,” he said. “Imagine if he or she were to pull and push, pull and push, pull and push, that’s what the tick does.”
If someone has Lyme disease they get a rash known as Erythema chonicum migrans, which may appear as a solid patch or resemble a bull’s-eye, Ramani said. The rash is often found on the abdomen, armpits and behind the ears and knees.
“Wherever it’s warm and moist, the ticks will like you,” he said.
Not every tick bite leads to Lyme disease and it’s important to get checked immediately by a doctor, Ramani said. To prevent Lyme disease, Ramani recommends performing tick checks after being outdoors, staying in the center of nature trails when hiking, and using inspect repellent.
“Don’t panic, take the tick out and call your physician, they’ll be able to help you,” Ramani said.
If a person removes part of a tick from their skin and the other part is stuck, Ramani recommends leaving it because it will fall out eventually.
“I’ve seen patients come to me with a burn mark because they burnt the skin trying to get the rest of the tick out,” Ramani said. “If you take out most of it, it’s done.”
With the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in the United States Congress in December 2016, more research, technology and testing can be used to stop Lyme disease, Auerbach said.
“It’s the first time we’re all coming together to sit down at the table because there’s so much dispute, which I found as a patient very disturbing because we were left in the lurch,” Auerbach said. “We’re all working blind because Lyme mimics everything else so it’s very, very difficult for the doctors to diagnose.”
During a question-and-answer session, Ramani was asked why a Lyme disease vaccine is no longer available. While Ramani attributes it to not being profitable, Ira Auerbach, a member of Barrett’s advisory board on Lyme disease, believes the vaccine was not effective.
“It was only 70 percent effective and it needed an annual boost,” Ira Auerbach said. “It also caused autoimmune disease.”
Stephanie Sussman, of Claverack, believes Columbia County Department of Health staff should work with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring the most current research and interventions about Lyme disease to the county.
“We need a more active Columbia County Department of Health to educate, to advocate, to serve as a focus for these other groups,” Sussman said.
McGahan visits schools and libraries across the county to educate residents. There is a Columbia County Tick Task Force which has enacted measures such as erecting signs at the county’s parks and handing out tick-removal kits, McGahan said.
“We monitor it on a local level pretty thoroughly,” she said.
More events spreading awareness about the disease are needed, according to Sussman.
“We need more efforts on the county level to secure funding,” Sussman said.
Sussman wears clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide, when working in her garden, and performs a tick check when she’s done.
“I take extreme measures to protect myself,” she said.
Ramani believes more work needs to be done in prevention and treatment of tick-borne diseases, he said after the event.
“There is a lot of misconception in the community and clearly more work needs to be done,” he said.
Barbara Plume, of Colonie, found the event informative and wanted to give a tip about being careful around barberry bushes as they harbor many ticks, she said.
“Barberry is the worst,” Plume said. “I’m not going to let my lawn grow any longer.”
Elizabeth Leckie, of Claverack, had several tick bites but none of which led to Lyme disease, she said. Leckie was surprised to learn more money and research was put into West Nile and Zika viruses, but next to none for Lyme disease.
“I realized how little we actually know about the disease,” Leckie said after the meeting. “It was very helpful.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.