It’s likely that the standing room only crowd of over 100 people learned something new about disease-bearing ticks at the Concerned Citizens of Montauk’s annual meeting, which included a forum on Lyme disease, on Saturday at the Montauk Firehouse.
The discussion was led by Dr. Joseph Burrascano Jr., an expert in the field of tick disease, who upon retiring from a private practice in East Hampton began further research on Lyme and related illnesses, and Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of C.C.O.M.
Dr. Burrascano went over the symptoms transmitted by ticks and said that 80 to 100 percent of the ticks on the South Fork are infected. It is a fallacy, he said, that a tick has to be attached to a person for 24 hours before it can transmit disease. Lone star ticks, the ones with the little spot on the center of the back, can transmit a disease within hours, he said.
Lone star ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which brings them to road edges and parking lot areas, Mr. Samuelson said. Disease symptoms are broad and they are often diagnosed as an arthritic condition, such as “Montauk knee,” rather than an infectious disease.
Only 17 percent of people with Lyme disease remember a bite, Dr. Burrascano said, explaining that the blood test for it is worse than a coin toss. “The sicker you are the less likely it is to show up in blood work,” he said. Patients have to be their own advocates, he said, and suggested that if people think they have Lyme disease they should list their symptoms on a calendar or diary every day.
“It’s a pattern of recognition. Keep going to your doctor even if you’re labeled as crazy. Make the most of your visit and open your mouth,” he said. “Doctors are not the kings of the world; don’t be afraid to speak up.”
The longer Lyme remains undetected, the longer it will take to treat, he said.
Dr. Burrascano also warned that one tick can transmit multiple infections. If you already have the disease and get another illness, it will make you even sicker, he said. Longstanding Lyme can damage nerve endings, and patients have to go through very strong antibiotic therapy to be cured. “A combination therapy is the way to go for a long-term Lyme,” he said.
He also prescribed staying healthy, avoiding alcohol, exercising, sticking to a low-fat diet, and forcing yourself to rest and sleep well. “When you sleep is when your immune system comes back. If your body is telling you it needs rest, then rest. Take a nap if you can.”
“Oh, and don’t forget to laugh,” Dr. Burrascano said. One piece of good news is that a new test that can detect the disease is now available in other states and will soon be offered in New York. “It is based on growing the Borrelia bacteria in the lab,” he said.
Dr. Burrascano recommended going to the Web site of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society at Ilads.org to learn more about tick diseases.
Mr. Samuelson offered suggestions on how to keep ticks from one’s home environment. Damp, overgrown vegetation is an invitation for ticks, he said. Japanese barberry shrubs are a deterrent. October is when adult ticks become more prevalent and last until they are buried under snow or frozen in the ground, he said.
“You want to create a crisp, dry, sun-filled environment around your home,” he said, noting that mice, which carry ticks, seek wood sheds, wood piles, bird feeders, and stone walls when cooler weather comes.