According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), New York is one of 14 states accounting for more thant 96 percent of Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC. It’s a statistic that got the attention of Senator Kemp Hannon.
“Did you know that the Northeastern United States continues to be one of our nation’s hardest-hit regions whne it comes to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases?,” he said. “This effects everyone from infants to seniors.”
Hannon’s concerns were enough to spur him to reach out to Dr. Bruce Polsky, who is chairman of the department of medicine at Winthrop University Hospital. Polsky was the featured speaker at the Lyme Disease Awarness Preparation presentation on Wednesday, July 29, at the Garden City Public Library located at 60 Seventh St. Polsky, who has more than 30 years of experiencing and treating Lyme disease, will be discussing a number of topics including risk factors, diagnosis, prevention and treatment. While avoiding getting bitten by a tick may be the most apparent way of not contracting Lyme disease, Polsky feels its a component that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“ You should avoid exposure to ticks and tick bites by using repellant that contains a chemical called DEET. Most of the commercially available products like Deep Woods Off and things like contain high concentrations of DEET and are recommended for prevention,” he explained. “If you’re walking in areas where there are a lot of ticks, and ticks are carried by deer and we have a lot of that on Long Island, keep covered as much as possible. It’s also probably not wise to take hikes in grass wearing shorts, in bare feet or open-toed shoes—common sense things like that to avoid exposure. Plus be sure to check yourself for ticks when you get home. You may not know that you have one on you. So do a quick self-examination when you get undressed.”
Since ticks are incapable of flight, contact with a person’s extremities as they walk through the brush or the woods is how these parasites initiate contact in their quest for a blood meal. And given that an unengorged tick can be as small as a pinhead, it can be easy to overlook until it winds up feeding, at which point it will increase considerably in size as it fill up with blood. It is at this point the Lyme disease bacteria is transmitted. Visual and physical symptoms that indicate you may have Lyme disease is the erythema migrans or bulls-eye rash that will appear on the affected area. Other signs may be fever, flu-like symptoms and joint soreness. And in the event that the tick is still attached, you should go to an urgent care facility or doctor to have it removed and be prescribed the proper regimine of antibiotics for treatment. At this point, Polsky says early detection is key in limiting the severity of the Lyme disease.
“The reason why it’s so important to catch it early when it’s most treatable is that you can end up with long-term problems with arthritis. Sometimes there are other abnormalities that develop. Cardiac conduction abnormalities, so people can develop an arrhythmia related to Lyme disease. Bell’s palsy, which is a paralysis of the facial nerve, which ends up causing drooping of the face,” he warned. “Bell’s palsy may actually be the presentation of acute Lyme disease. People will wake up with Bell’s palsy and that’s presentation of Lyme disease. Typically, that’ll resolve in almost all cases, with antibiotics. But it’s problematic because people have trouble eating, drinking and even talking. That’s why prevention is still key. So the people who tell you that they can just take antibiotics—sure, you can do that if you get Bell’s palsy, but it can become debilitating for several weeks or even a few months.”
According to Polsky, the biggest misconception surrounding Lyme disease is the idea that it’s a chronic condition that the bacteria will live on in an infected person’s body, even after they’ve gotten treated.
“I think the public perception that the actual bacteria that causes Lyme disease can persist in the body for very long periods of time, even with treatment, is a fallacy. However, people can be debilitated by Lyme disease for a long period of time,” he said. “So I like to differentiate between the concept of chronic infection, with the Lyme disease bacteria and the results of Lyme disease infection. People can stay sick for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they still have the Lyme disease bacteria. There is an inflammatory response and condition that can result in longtime disability, so I wouldn’t want to minimize that. But there is a whole industry that has sprouted up on giving people long courses of intravenous antibiotics at infusion centers for long periods of time. I do believe that there is a popular belief among many people that infection with the Lyme disease bacteria can chronic. I and most experts don’t subscribe to that on the basis of the research that’s been done.”