Aches and pains. Loss of communication skills. Seizures. Misdiagnosis.
These are only some of the themes five members of the newly formed Suffolk County Tick Eradication Task Force heard from speakers describing their symptoms of Lyme Disease at a forum held at the Southold Town Recreation in Peconic Wednesday night.
Organized by Coutny Legis. Ed Romaine, the task force members were there to hear these painful stories and another message — Southold Town and the county cannot be silent about the seriousness of tick borne illness anymore.
“This was the worst year for ticks in 20 years,” said Linda Weir of Peconic, who said she’s been living with Lyme Disease since 1979 and went undiagnosed until 2004. “Because I’ve gone on with this for so long, I have kidney and liver problems now. My granddaughter has been bit and was misdiagnosed with Tourette syndrome. But we don’t publicize the problem we have with ticks out here — why? Is it because of tourism? Why are we waiting to address the problem?”
The panel, made up of a doctor, a resident of Shelter Island — which has recently found success in quelling tick populations through a “4-poster” tick management study — a representative of the Empire State Lyme Disease Association, and a deer management expert from the Department of Environmental Conservation, absorbed this kind of feedback from an audience of about 50 people for about two hours Wednesday night.
The task force will continue to conduct meetings like these and create a written report of its findings and determinations. This report along with the recommendations for action will be distributed to each member of the county legislature, the commissioner of the department of health services, and the county executive when the task force has completed its year’s worth of work.
This is the second tick task force headed up by Legis. Romaine. The first task force formed two years ago and focused on Lyme disease — a tick-borne disease affecting hundreds in Suffolk County. Several medical professionals were onboard to talk about their concerns with how Lyme is treated, and how the disease is too often under-reported and misdiagnosed. Romaine said the focus for this panel is on tick eradication.
“The county spends millions fighting mosquitoes, and justifiably so, with West Nile a major concern,” he said. “But we’ve hardly spent a dime on tick eradication.”
Wednesday night, ideas on various way to rid the area of ticks included pesticide use and 4-poster management system, which was set up six years ago on Shelter Island. According to Patricia Shillingburg, a county task force panelist who has pushed for tick management on Shelter Island, the experiment on the island was a success in quelling 90 percent of the tick problem — 60 of these 4-poster devices were set up with cornmeal in the back of rollers sprayed with a pesticide that would cover a deer’s ears if it ate the cornmeal.
Deer are one of the main carriers of ticks in Suffolk County — and many in the audience said that culling the deer herd once and for all should be the county’s priority.
“We need to get rid of the deer — now,” said Susan Switzer of Peconic, who has also been living with Lyme Disease much of her life, adding that due to hunting restrictions in certain populated sections of the North Fork, many cannot do anything about the deer. “If tourists knew how bad the tick problem is here, they wouldn’t come here. If I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t come here — every time I step outside, I feel like I’m in ‘The Hunger Games.’”
According to the Center for Disease Control, 3118 cases of Lyme disease were confirmed in New York State in 2011, and 1372 were “probable” cases. The number of confirmed cased in 2011 is up from 2010’s 2385 and is actually less those reported in Pennsylvania and New Jersery (click here for the full report on Lyme Disease reported from state to state).
Still, John Rasweiler, a member of the Southold Town Deer Management task force, which formed in 2008, said that the minimal number of deer taken through the Town’s hunting program is no longer enough to battle tick borne illnesses on the North Fork.
“Deer have become a serious medical problem,” said Rasweiler, a mammalogist who’s spent his career working with wildlife. “I believe Southold Town took 382 deer last year through its deer hunting program, but out of the estimated 10,000 deer roaming the town, this isn’t cutting the mustard.”
Due to the current harsh economic climate in the town, the county and the state, Rasweiler suggested that a plan be jointly negotiated with the automobile insurance industry to help subsidize funds to pay for full-time wildlife control people to deal with deer in Suffolk County.
“Collisions would also decrease and therefore auto insurance would be reduced,” he said. “Either way, we need to be frank and say the program we have in place is not enough.”
Though this incarnation of the county’s tick task force is supposed to focus on tick eradication, many in the audience still focused on the medical industry and how Lyme is still not taken seriously among many practitioners.
Jen Brown, who drove from North Haven to the Southold meeting, described how she took her son, who was bit by an infected tick when he was 2 and is now 5, to eight doctors before Lyme Disease was diagnosed as the cause of his flu-like symptoms and eventual seizures.
Public awareness on the dangers of tick bites is also key in eradicating Lyme Disease, she told the panel.
“If I had only known about ticks, I would have been more alarmed and my son’s life might have been different,” she said. “He might not have been through the trauma of suffering 1,000 brain seizures. I’m here to give you a sense of urgency, because up until now Lyme Disease has been a silent crisis. My son has been misdiagnosed as having panic attacks and misbehaving — one doctor recommended that I punish him. Another one said, ‘Don’t worry, he has the flu — the flu is good for kids.’
“The public needs to be education — raking the leaves without protection is not a good idea,” she continued. “I don’t know what my 5-year-old’s future holds, but I hope something can be done. The word needs to get out that even playing hide-and-seek in a sunny grassy area is dangerous if you haven’t sprayed your kid.”
What do you think? Have you grappled with Lyme Disease symptoms? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comment boxes below.