Jerry Simons discussed tick-borne disease diagnosis and prevention during a symposium at the November meeting of the Noyac Civic Council.
By Mara Certic
As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, East Enders sometimes fall into a false sense of security, believing tick season is over for another cold winter. But with the ever-increasing number of tick-borne diseases and infections, medical professionals emphasize the importance of remaining vigilant against the virulent arachnids all year long.
In response to the growing number of infections, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle convened a tick-borne disease task force last year to search for solutions to the problem, which is particularly prevalent on the East End. An advisory panel for Southampton Hospital’s Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center has come up with a multi-pronged mission to help reduce the number of tick-borne diseases and infections on Long Island and around the world.
In addition to facilitating treatment and educating medical professions about the various diseases carried by ticks, the panel has been charged with educating the public at several informative medical symposiums.
Jerry Simons, a physician’s assistant at East Hampton Urgent Care, gave the last such presentation of the year, on November 12 at the monthly meeting of the Noyac Civic Council.
Mr. Simons has been treating Lyme disease for almost 20 years.
“I saw my first Lyme disease patient in 1995,” he said at the meeting. Although the disease is named after a town in Connecticut, a lot of progress and discoveries made on Lyme disease happened out here on the East End, he said. “So it makes sense for the tick center to re-blossom here,” he added.
One of the difficulties of treating Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, Mr. Simons said, is figuring out what the exact strain of the disease is. Whereas people in the past have been told to look out for bull’s eye rashes, Mr. Simons noted that 30 to 50 percent of people with Lyme disease do not develop one.
“In 2014, like there are different types of flu germs or Epstein Barr, there are also different kinds of Lyme disease,” Mr. Simons said. Some of the literature says there are four different strains, whereas some claim there are as many as 12. According to Mr. Simons, those strains can then have up to four different subtypes of their own.
In addition to the many strains of Lyme, there are also diseases such as babesiosis, IA, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and, most recently, the Alpha-gal allergy to meat.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of checking for the right germ,” Mr. Simons said, suggesting that anyone with a worrisome tick bite should ask for the Tick-Borne Disease Panel 3 work up, which tests for many different strains and diseases.
“But what I need you to remember is it’s not just Lyme disease,” he added.
Several medical publications have recently suggested that the ticks with the highest rate of infection in the world are those within a 50-mile-radius of Shelter Island.
“If you were in North Dakota and got a tick bite it would be a different story,” he said. Mr. Simons advocates getting treated with antibiotics right away, adding that they can prevent further, more serious problems four, eight or 12 weeks down the line. Also, spending $20 or $30 on early antibiotics could save thousands of dollars on blood work.
One of his pet peeves, he said, is when patients find a tick on themselves and wait to have it removed by a professional. “You need to remove it immediately,” Mr. Simons said. Once removed, the ticks themselves should be taken to a doctor’s office, where they can determine the type of tick, its sex and whether or not it’s swollen, he added.
Inspecting the offending tick is one of the ways doctors can quickly and more efficiently diagnose patients, he said.
The bite of the Lone Star tick larvae, for example, can cause the Alpha-gal meat allergy and also other diseases in some cases. When bitten by an infected Lone Star tick, the alpha gal polysugar gets into the body. Once the enzyme is in your body, eating fatty red meats can cause a delayed inflammatory reaction, similar to a bee sting, Mr. Simons explained.
Whereas for some, the Alpha-gal allergy affects them only when they consume red meat, others can have reactions to dryer sheets, cosmetics, even lanoline strips on razors.
Recent research has shown people with Alpha-gal have very low glutamine levels, Mr. Simons said. Glutamine is one of the most abundant naturally occurring nonessential amino acids.
“You’re hearing it here first,” Mr. Simons said, “the advice is to run—not walk—to the store and get a big thing of glutamine.”
High doses of glutamine combined with six months to a year without any sort of meat contact could perhaps reverse the effect of the allergy, he said.
“It’s like in the ’80s when we were trying to figure out AIDS and HIV—you’re living in history,” Mr. Simons said.
For more information about tick-borne diseases call 726-TICK, or visit tickencounter.org.
While ticks are most active from May through July, they will remain active until the temperature drops below 32 degrees. While the pests can be hard to avoid, here are some ways to keep ticks away:
- Mice carry the most infectious ticks, so removing leaf piles and brush and other rodent retreats will help keep dangerous ticks away from the house.
- Damminix tick tubes can be used to kill ticks on rodents. The product is available online, but DIY-ers can create the products themselves by putting cotton balls soaked in permethrin into cardboard tubes in mouse-infested areas. The mice, in turn, collect the cotton balls for their nests and the permethrin kills the ticks on contact.
- Ticks are very unlikely to cross a 3-foot-wide wood chip boundary, so putting one around a house can help keep them away.
- Ticks of all species apparently hate the smell of lavender; so dryer sheets and sprays imbued with the scent can also repel them.
- Diluted DEET should be sprayed on shoes once a month, to keep ticks away.
- Natural repellents, such as Buzz-Away can be applied directly to the skin.
- Experts suggest spraying yards or lawns once a month from April to November, as well. Organic sprays are available from East End Tick and Mosquito Control.
- Applying permethrin to clothes will kill all ticks on contact. Clothes pre-treated with permethrin are also available.