Warning: Lyme Disease Season in Medfield About to Pick Up Speed
Medical professionals tell Medfield residents to focus on prevention as a way of lowering the risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Medical professionals who spoke at Thursday’s "Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Illnesses Community Prevention Forum" agreed that prevention is the best medicine when it comes to tick-borne diseases.
“Protect yourselves, protect your pets, protect your yard,” said Dr. Lester Hartman of Westwood/Mansfield Pediatrics.
“Medfield may be the Lyme disease capital of the world; Sherborn is catching up and Holliston is not far behind,” said Jean Sniffin, a public health nurse for the Medfield Board of Health (as well as Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, and Sherborn) and a nurse consultant for 23 community day care centers.
Though many in the crowd of 50 people gathered at The Center at Medfield saw her comment as a slight exaggeration, the data shown by Hartman earlier in the program clearly indicated that Medfield’s numbers are higher than most.
“My theory why Medfield is so full of Lyme disease and deer ticks is two-fold: First, it’s a conservation area but, second, it’s because of the MCAS,” said Hartman referring to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, the standardized testing conducted by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Hartman said that the first year MCAS was offered, Medfield schools scored well and people were attracted to the school system, which created a housing boom, which then disturbed wildlife and pushed the disease, including deer that carry deer ticks (a host of Lyme disease), closer to the general population.
While there are many theories about why the town has a high rate of Lyme disease, the Medfield Lyme Disease Study Committee, many of whose members have had the disease, held this week’s forum to warn the public to start checking for ticks again.
Statistics show that the rate of reported cases of Lyme disease starts to climb in the spring and then peaks in June with very high rates still reported in July and August, with the highest number of cases reported in children ages five to nine years old and adults ages 65 to 69.
Hartman encouraged parents to adopt Medfield Lyme Disease Committee member’s bedtime motto: “Brush your teeth, and check for ticks” and to also hang a “tick check” diagram in the shower or near the mirror in each child’s room so they can check for ticks themselves.
Each expert agreed that prevention was the best medicine for humans and animals alike.
People should wear protective clothing, ideally long pants and long-sleeved shirts in high-risk areas; wear bug repellants with DEET – also spray clothing and shoes; stay out of the woodlands or tall grass, or places where you might find them.
Veterinarian Jessica Young of the Medfield Veterinary Clinic said that more than 50,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in animals in Massachusetts since 2007, and there are likely many more that were unreported.
“Lyme disease definitely affects our pets and it’s not going to go away,” she said.
Young said that “prevention is the first line of defense for Lyme disease” so pets should be pre-treated with a tick deterrent, wear a tick collar, and owners could also consider a deer tick vaccine. She said there are no known cases of Lyme disease in cats and warned multi-pet families that most tick treatments for dogs (noting that Frontline Plus has the lowest toxicity) can be fatal to cats.
Property owners should consider creating a three-foot area of wood chips between woodlands and their yard (ticks will get stuck in wood chips and die); consider cutting back trees around the house; eliminate yard waste including leaf piles; eliminate tick habitats; realize that stone wall are “deer tick hotels” because they attract mice for the ticks; add deer-repelling plants; or add a fence to keep out the deer (should be at least 10 feet high).
The Medfield Board of Health also has a great deal of Lyme disease materials including brochures and a Tick Examination Chart, to name a few.