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Holly Ahern

Holly Ahern, a microbiology professor at SUNY Adirondack, is a co-founder of the Lyme Action Network and has personal experience with Lyme disease. We are not so far north in the Glens Falls region that we can afford to be careless about ticks. 

Post-Star file photo

A recent story we ran on Lyme disease made clear to us that we are all largely on our own when it comes to protecting ourselves against the disease and making sure, if we get it, that we get treated for it.

We are not so far north in the Glens Falls region that we can afford to be careless about ticks. Ticks are here, in the woods and the fields — even in our lawns. They get on our dogs, on our kids and ourselves, and sometimes, they carry the bug that causes Lyme disease.

Few places can afford not to worry about Lyme disease anymore, as Mary Beth Pfeiffer made clear in her recently published book, “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change,” and in her recent talk at SUNY Adirondack.

Pfeiffer was for about 30 years an outstanding investigative journalist for the Poughkeepsie Journal. Her book lays out the frightening way Lyme disease has been spreading across the country — and around the world — and how ill-prepared we are to deal with it.

There is no vaccine for the disease; the test used to diagnose it is unreliable; and disputes rage between patients and doctors — and between doctors and doctors — about the best way to treat it.

The best strategy is to avoid getting Lyme disease, and that means avoiding ticks:

Remember that ticks can be around and active even in the early spring, such as now, and that, contrary to myth, they do not have to remain in place for a certain amount of time after biting you to transmit disease. They can transmit Lyme and other diseases as soon as they bite.

Sometimes, infected people get rashes, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, the rashes form a bull’s-eye, but sometimes they don’t.

Tuck pants into socks when walking in woods or fields or anywhere ticks could be around. Wear white or light-colored clothes, so you can spot ticks.

Use insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET for the best results. Some repellents with natural ingredients, such as rose geranium oil and citrus oil, also seem to work.

Spray outdoor shoes and clothing (not skin) with permethrin, which repels ticks and can kill them on contact.

Use tick collars or oil repellents on pets.

Check yourself, pets and children when coming inside. Ticks in the skin should be removed immediately. Use tweezers and grab them as close to the skin as possible, then pull straight out.

Throw outdoor clothes in dryer for 5 or 10 minutes, because heat kills ticks.

If you think you or a child may have been bitten, or if you experience unexplained flu-like symptoms, especially in the summer, you may find you have to advocate for Lyme disease testing and/or treatment with your doctor.

Lyme is tricky to diagnose and can be difficult to treat. The accepted wisdom in the medical community — pushed by the Centers for Disease Control — has been that a short course of antibiotics of 10 to 21 days will lead most people to recover “rapidly and completely.”

But the experience of a significant portion of Lyme-afflicted patients has been that they have not recovered after the standard treatment and then have struggled to convince doctors they are even sick, much less need further treatment.

Patient advocacy groups, like the local Lyme Action Network, have sprung up to help the thousands of people who believe they are still suffering from Lyme, sometimes after many years.

Another result of the official downplaying of long-term Lyme symptoms has been a lack of government money for research into the disease. Lyme does not get the funding it deserves, considering the hundreds of thousands of people infected each year.

We are hoping the attention being drawn to the disease by Pfeiffer’s new book and by organizations like the Lyme Action Network will change the dynamic. We have seen with other diseases, such as AIDS, that when public mobilization forces the government and medical communities to focus, amazing progress can be made.

Meanwhile, watch out for ticks!

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rob Forcey, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Bob Tatko, Carol Merchant and Eric Mondschein.

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