MONROE—Over the last 15 years Orange County has been hit hard by an outbreak of Lyme disease, but with greater awareness and education about the tick-borne illness, reports of cases are slowly declining.
In 2013, 95 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from 14 states, mostly on the East Coast, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information. New York State has been hard-hit.
The National Institutes of Health’s Library of Medicine reports New York accounted for approximately 30 percent of all Lyme disease cases nationally in 1996. In 2014, Orange County reported 546 probable and confirmed cases.
In 2009, the county documented a record 1078 confirmed cases. Orange County epidemiologist Jackie Lawler says that figure is partly due to a more inclusive definition of a Lyme disease case—probable, suspect, or confirmed.
An August 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Lyme cases in the Northeast alone have spiked by over 320 percent since 1991— a surge that researchers attribute to a rainy spring, as well as the ecology of the region, which favors mice, rodents, and deer that commonly carry the disease-borne ticks.
Lawler says the insects can be found anywhere there is grass. Since we are at the height of tick season, Lawler declined to give a figure for new cases as reports are coming in every day and any figure given would be low.
Lawler’s role is surveillance. “We investigate cases of Lyme disease that are reported by physicians or that come through our electronic laboratory reporting system.”
Lawler says there is no specific demographic for the disease but estimates there may be more cases of males who tend to be out and about. “The more you’re outside, the more exposure you have.”
Suffering from Lyme
Edler Talentino of Monroe contracted Lyme disease five years ago. “I wasn’t aware—It wasn’t really a big thing back then.” Then he began to have trouble walking and couldn’t get out of bed. His doctors said nothing was wrong. “They kept thinking it was a psychological problem, so they sent me to mental health.”
Talentino’s health deteriorated. “Major headaches, hip problems, inflammation left and right, joint pain. My feet get hot. I get fevers almost every night.” After his wife intervened with his doctor, he was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. By that time, “it was already too late. It was already in my system. I’m full-blown.” Talentino now takes herbs and vitamins which he says help to control the symptoms.
He says that too many physicians don’t believe a patient’s complaints and don’t suspect Lyme disease. “A lot of doctors do not believe in Lyme disease so they won’t do anything about it.” He hopes that will change.
While Talentino’s says his wife cares for him, others look to support groups. The Chronic Lyme Disease Support Group of Orange County offers support to anyone who has the disease as well as caregivers, friends, and family.
“You guys are really good people and I got so much from your input, said Rory Hubert Kahn on their facebook page. The group meets twice a month in Chester.
Legislators and officials on every level are paying attention. In July the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The act includes the key provisions of the Tick-borne Disease Research Transparency and Accountability Act authored by New York Rep. Chris Gibson.
Lawler says county agents provide education to campers and any other community groups that are interested.
In 2007 Lawler says the county started to participate in the Sentinel Surveillance System. “It allows us to fully investigate all reported cases through the physicians and 20 percent of the lab reports that are received.” The state extrapolates the data to minimize the paperwork that doctors face in submitting a case. “We still do all the investigative work and anything that gets reported by the doctors we investigate.”
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