Residents Speak out on Lyme Disease
The impact of Lyme disease is often easy for many to dismiss as they have limited personal experience of the infection. This makes it even more important that those affected share their stories with their community to encourage Lyme disease awareness. Patients themselves can help explain the confusion that often accompanies infection with Borrelia burgdorferi and co-infections. Speaking out can also encourage empathy amongst the community and make it easier to talk about the debilitating symptoms of this seemingly invisible infection. Patients and their families are often affected on a physical, emotional, and financial level as they struggle through the healthcare quagmire searching for answers in an atmosphere of condescension, disbelief, and ignorance. In Loudon County, residents gave accounts of their battles with Chronic Lyme Disease and the fear of reinfection that it can bring.
High Rates of Lyme Disease
It is, perhaps, no surprise that Loudon County is waging war on Lyme disease as it has one of the highest rates of infection in the US, and the highest in Virginia, according to the CDC. In 2011 there were more than 250 cases of Lyme disease confirmed in residents but it is thought that many more cases exist and are either unrecognized or mistaken for another condition such as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, depression, or even gout or arthritis. Even doctors working in an area with a relatively high rate of Lyme disease cases continue to be doubtful of the diagnosis unless a clear Lyme disease rash (erythema migrans) is present, along with early symptoms of the infection such as an influenza-like illness. The early symptoms of Lyme disease often disappear only to return months later with, seemingly, no explanation, and this can cause confusion in physicians and patients alike.
Improving Lyme Disease Treatment
Recognizing Lyme disease earlier means that antibiotic treatment is more likely to prove successful in eradicating the infection. Chronic complications may arise if the bacteria are able to spread into the central nervous system, heart, or joint tissue. Research on the ability of Lyme disease bacteria to ‘hide’ from the immune system is ongoing with some sceptical of the ability of many antibiotic treatments routinely used for Lyme disease to actually clear the body of the problematic pathogen. An increase in Lyme disease awareness in Loudon County might mean that more cases are recognized and researchers are better able to determine the best way to improve Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment throughout the United States.
Why Loudon is Lyme-Central
Loudon County has a particularly high rate of Lyme disease for a number of reasons. The county has a large number of areas where humans have encroached onto rural land where deer, rodents, and other animals live. These host animals act as a reservoir for the infection and the ticks that bite them and are infected with Borrelial bacteria are then more likely to come across humans to take another blood meal and pass on the bacteria themselves. Parks and grassy areas are enjoyed by many residents in Loudon County, and the population itself is growing, bringing increasing numbers of people into an area of risk as their properties adjoin these green-spaces.
What Can Loudon County do to Control Lyme Disease?
At a public hearing prior to the vote to establish the Lyme Disease Commission, the attendees listened to a number of speakers concerned about the tick-control methods proposed by various counties across the US. Insecticides, deer-feeders laced with pesticides, and even deer culls have all been used to varying effects in areas rife with Lyme disease-carrying ticks but there are many fears over the environmental impact of these methods of halting Lyme disease’s spread. A recent discovery of a tick-killing fungus could mean a more natural approach to Lyme disease prevention in the future but more research needs carrying out before the product is commercially available. In the meantime, Loudon County has proposed a ten-point action plan to fight Lyme disease during its self-declared Lyme Disease Awareness Year.
Action Against Lyme Disease
One of the primary strategies for Lyme disease control is improving education outreach initiatives in the county, in order to reduce exposure to ticks and facilitate earlier removal of ticks, testing, and treatment for Lyme disease. Another key element in the plan is to spray insecticide across parks and green-spaces in Loudon County, with a budget for such spraying and an open bid process for those interested in providing such a service. County officials recognize the need for action as Lyme disease comes up time and again in their conversations with local residents and, aside from the obvious concern over public health, the county is worried about the economic implications should Loudon County become irrevocably associated with Lyme disease.
Will the Plan Work?
Some local residents who are a little more cynical have pointed out that Loudon County is about thirty years behind the game when it comes to Lyme disease and that the strongly worded attack on the infection is more about politics than people. As well as the creation of the Lyme Disease Commission, the county will also conduct a Lyme disease survey (despite the disease already being reportable), and publish articles in local press to improve Lyme disease awareness (although there is already considerable media coverage in the area). The plan also sets out to establish a list of doctors specializing in Lyme disease, which could prove problematic as many worry that such self-declared Lyme Literate Medical Doctors (LLMDs) are merely quacks peddling ineffective or even harmful ‘cures’ for the infection. With the focus on the use of insecticides during Loudon County’s Lyme Disease Awareness Year it may be that the Republican party’s next action plan, five years down the line, is to survey residents for exposure to dangerous chemicals and monitor those with diseases connected to environmental toxins.