I still remember my reaction when I first learned about this horrible thing called Lyme disease. Few people knew about it then, but by 1991 the problem had become serious enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) required doctors to report any new cases. The number of confirmed diagnoses has grown steadily ever since, reaching 9,250 in my home state of Pennsylvania in 2017. Factor in unreported and/or un-diagnosed cases, that number is over five digits long. Some think six.
Three ticks commonly bite humans (black-legged, dog, and lone star). All can transmit some sort of disease. The chief perpetrator is the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, and it can also deliver Powassan virus disease, a more-alarming, less-treatable, and faster-transmitted disease than Lyme. Regardless, my reaction to all tick-borne illnesses remains the same. They are traumatic because they cause a malady that can inflict us all: fear. How much do we lose when the possible existence of ticks keeps us from connecting to the places were are in?
Meanwhile, while still way too high, the cases reported in Connecticut (where Lyme was first discovered in the U.S.) have dropped over the last few years. In New York State, over 3,000 cases were confirmed in 2017, but that number is less than what was reported a decade ago. To me, these are tiny glimpses of hope, brought to us, I believe, by science-based awareness. Is it coincidence that an independent environmental research organization that has been studying the ecology of Lyme — the Cary Institute — is headquartered in Millbrook, NY? Maybe, but we still we owe much to this team of scientists (see link below*). Too bad they must struggle to get the proper funding in order to teach us even more.
Everyone around here knows someone who suffers with the side effects left by Lyme, and it’s possible many of those patients have been inflicted more than once. If you played the odds, it would be a safe bet that someone like me will not stay clean much longer. Regardless…
I will not be afraid. I will arm myself with knowledge. I will support continued ecological research. I will protect the habitat of Lyme-combative species. I will employ the preventive measures that can greatly reduce the chances of contracting any tick-borne illness. But I will never stop wandering the woods, for that would truly kill me.