“You are accountable to the East Hampton Town residents, to do something to protect our health,” Ilissa Meyer told members of the town board on Tuesday.
During the development of a town deer management plan, which was recently adopted, Ms. Meyer reminded the board that she had been “begging you to take action” to address not only the population of deer, but of the creatures they often host — ticks. According to the town plan, which contains a variety of options for future actions, such as enacting a deer contraception program, or culling the herd, one goal of deer population control is to stem the transmission of tick-borne diseases.
Ms. Meyer has provided the board with information about the prevalence of those diseases and with research and contacts for those studying the problem, including the Centers for Disease Control.
On Tuesday she said that initial findings released by the C.D.C. indicate that the number of people nationwide diagnosed each year with Lyme disease, one of the most common of the illnesses contracted after a tick bite, is estimated to have reached the 300,000 mark. The preliminary estimate, based on findings from three ongoing studies, was presented on Sunday in Boston at the 2013 International Conference on Lyme, Borreliosis, and Other Tick-Borne Diseases.
In a press release, Dr. Paul Mead, the chief of epidemiology and surveillance for the C.D.C.’s Lyme disease program, called Lyme “a tremendous public health problem in the United States” and said there is an “urgent need for prevention.”
“How many tourists do you think will continue to come to East Hampton . . . if they know there is a 50-percent chance of contracting a tick-borne disease?” Ms. Meyer asked the board.
The C.D.C., she said, along with other researchers, is working to identify new methods to kill ticks and prevent the illnesses they transmit. She urged the town to immediately form a tick task force, with members including experts in the field, such as doctors, veterinarians, and C.D.C. personnel.
The Centers for Disease Control is also advocating a proactive approach. “We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem,” the agency said in its release. “This community approach would involve homeowners trying to kill ticks in their own yards, and communities addressing a variety of issues. These issues include rodents that carry the Lyme disease bacteria, deer that play a key role in the ticks’ lifecycle, suburban planning, and the interaction between deer, rodents, ticks, and humans. All must be addressed to effectively fight Lyme disease.”
Most Lyme disease cases reported to the C.D.C. are in patients living in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Other tick-borne diseases include ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. All can be serious if left untreated.
Southampton Hospital has planned to establish a Center for Tick-Borne Diseases, and on Sunday will team up with the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance for an event called Bite Back for a Cure, part of the alliance’s national campaign to raise awareness and encourage local advocacy.
The event, which will help raise money for the new center, will begin with an eight-mile bike ride through Southampton Village for riders of all ages. Registration is $30 per person or $60 per family. Check-in will begin at 8 a.m. at the Rotations Bicycle Center on Windmill Lane, and the ride will start at 9:30. Bicycles will be available for rental.
According to Marsha Kenny, a spokeswoman for the hospital, the Center for Tick-Borne Diseases, which they hope to open next spring, would provide information for residents and visitors, as well as serve as an educational resource for the resident physicians in the hospital’s medical education program, along with other South Fork doctors. The hospital would not provide treatment for tick-borne diseases (except to patients visiting the emergency department), but would provide referrals to physicians familiar with the diseases.
According to Ms. Kenny, “the hospital recognizes tick-borne disease as a serious public health problem for the South Fork and we feel that we must provide resources to help people.”