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Prevention is Key to Fighting Lyme Disease

State Senator John DeFrancisco gathers experts to address health issue

Dr. Brian F. Leydet

By Karen B. Moore

"Prevention" was the key word during a press conference on Lyme disease.

Hosted by State Senator John DeFrancisco, the event brought together experts on the prevention of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, along with people afflicted with the devastating health effects of Lyme disease.

Prior to 2000, New York didn't have the right environment for a large tick population, said Dr. Brian F. Leydet, an assistant professor of epidemiology and disease ecology in the ESF Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, who studies tick-borne diseases and identifying the relationships between disease carriers and hosts.

However, climate change has made the region more hospitable to ticks. The increased tick population also means an increase in tick-borne diseases, said Leydet.

The first step in avoiding Lyme disease, said Leydet, is "don't get bitten."

"Be aware when you're outside," he said, "Do tick checks when you go inside." People should start with their legs and the back of the legs and work their way up.

Ticks don't drop out of trees or hop onto people, he noted. "They climb," he said. Ticks will latch onto your leg and then climb to find a spot where they "are comfortable," he said. If you find one on your neck or in your hair it means it's had time to climb up.

"Constantly look down at your legs," he said. Sprays with DEET should also be used, not only on the skin, but on boots and socks to discourage the ticks.

If you do find a tick that's latched on, pull it off and save it, he said. "Put it in a bag and save it, so if symptoms to occur, you can take it to the doctor." From there the doctor can identify the type of tick and the associated tick-borne illness it might be carrying.

Leydet noted, "Increased funding is needed to not only educate the public, but to follow through on research to prevent Lyme disease from being transmitted to humans and pets when are bitten by infected ticks."

Along with Leydet, the event featured two people who are living with the debilitating and long-term effects of Lyme disease, which can include severe headaches, skin sensitivity and joint pain. Audrey Mitchell, a Syracuse teenager, and Kathleen Wallace, spokesperson for the Upstate Lyme Disease Association, spoke of the long-term effects of the disease and the impact it's had on their lives. Both noted the need for increased awareness in the public and medical communities to ensure accurate diagnosis.

"There is nothing worse than being told your illness is all in your head," said Mitchell.

Said DeFrancisco, "According to the Centers for Disease Control, New York has the third highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the entire country. It's extremely important that we raise awareness in our community about the prevention and treatment of this potentially debilitating disease."