BY CYNDI ZAWESKI
With the spread of tick-borne illnesses reaching epidemic proportions on Long Island, more than 60 residents attended a forum last Wednesday to discuss the public health crisis and the measures being taken to safeguard the community. “Grappling with Ticks” was the third in a series of 10 panel discussions on newsworthy topics affecting Southold and Riverhead towns hosted by Times Review Media Group.
Content director Grant Parpan, who moderated the event, called the discussion “essential” prior to introducing the panel: Stony Brook University researcher Jorge Benach; Dr. Anna-Marie Wellins of the Medical Advisory Panel of the Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Jeff Standish, Southold Town’s director of public works; Craig Jobes, environmental analyst for Southold Town; April Boitano, president of Tick Wise Education Inc; and Jennifer Petrocelli, general manager of The Preston House & Hotel, who suffers from Lyme disease and advocates for awareness and treatment.
The multi-layered, two-hour conversation zeroed in on three main talking points: health and epidemiology, hunting and the role of deer in the spread of tick-borne infections, and actionable advice for protection against disease.
An engorged deer tick. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Lyme testing and the great unknown
When it comes to the types of tick-borne illnesses Long Island residents are being diagnosed with, Lyme disease is still at the top of the list.
But for every 10 cases of Lyme, one other tick-borne disease is diagnosed, such as babesiosis, which is also on the rise on Long Island, Dr. Anna-Marie Wellins explained. Its symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches and occasionally the characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In general, to transmit Lyme disease an infected tick needs to be attached for at least 36 hours, however, infections can be transferred more quickly.
Early detection of Lyme remains a challenge for doctors.
“The traditional test is not going to show anything for a month,” Dr. Wellins said. “Lyme is tricky because it is not a point-of-cure test that you can give when someone walks in the office to say ‘I have Lyme, or I don’t have Lyme.’ ”