The Crisis Is Here

By Kathryn Ruscitto
Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The emergence of Lyme and tick-borne disease, including co-infections from Bartonella to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are hitting families across the country, and the outbreak is particularly acute in the Northeast.

Lyme disease is easily cured if diagnosed early.


Kathryn Ruscitto

“The majority of people who are diagnosed properly with Lyme disease and treated effectively go on to live normal lives; however, research suggests that approximately 15% to 20% of those diagnosed and treated do not respond favorably and experience ongoing suffering and complications,” Scott Santarella, CEO of the Global Lyme Alliance (GLA), notes. “Research is being conducted to better understand the persistent/chronic symptoms experienced by this subset of patients, with preliminary data suggesting the culprits of the complex chronic challenges include a compromised immune system and/or ongoing tick-borne co-infections. Considering nearly 300,000 people are diagnosed annually, if you calculate 20% over the last five years, the result would be nearly 500,000 people suffering from some set of chronic conditions post the onset of Lyme infection.”

We need providers to be educated about prevention and early detection. There is free CME availed on the GLA website: globallymealliance.org.

Unfortunately Lyme can be serious in some cases. In the past few years, Lyme carditis has led to deaths when not diagnosed early.

We are leading the way in Central New York with researchers like Brian Leydet, PhD, Assistant Professor, Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who states:

“Because of the lack of an adequate early diagnostic test and the complications from allowing the Lyme bacterium to spread to various tissues and cause a spectrum of clinical signs and symptoms, prevention is the key in avoiding Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. I recommend (and practice myself) using a permethrin spray on clothing (follow directions when applying). I especially use this on my hiking boots and lawn work shoes. When outdoors, tucking pant legs into your socks will prevent the tick from climbing up undetected under your clothes. Always take a shower after you are outdoors in a potential tick habitat. Not only can this wash off any unattached ticks, but it will allow you to find and remove any ticks that may have started feeding. Lastly, if you do find a tick attached to you, remove it with a pair of tweezers (please no “old wives’ tale” remedies), and keep the tick in a zip-top bag in your freezer. The cold will kill it. If you develop any flu-like symptoms then, go to the doctor and bring the tick.”

In addition, we have great treatment specialists, such as Stephen Thomas, MD, Director, Institute for Global Health and Translational Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical Center, and Kris Paolino, MD, MTM&H, Infectious Disease Associates at SUNY Upstate Medical Center, who are passionate about building on the research and treatment capabilities in Central New York.

“Upstate’s vector biology laboratory should be completed by spring/summer of 2020 and offer numerous capabilities to support the research of Lyme and other tick- and mosquito-borne diseases,” Dr. Thomas notes. “The lab will focus on translational research with a goal of improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of [those conditions.]”

According to Dr. Paolino, Director of Clinical Research, Center for Global Health and Translational Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease SUNY Upstate Medical University, additional efforts for prevention and standardized treatment are necessary.

“Early treatment is key to preventing the long-term debilitating symptoms associated with Lyme disease,” Dr. Paolino says. “It is difficult to directly detect the organism in most situations, resulting in our need to rely on indirect, antibody-based methods to detect infection, which are unreliable early in the course of the infection. We need better preventive efforts to ensure the public is protected and improved education to ensure our providers are able to recognize Lyme disease as early as possible. Treatment of the chronic symptoms of Lyme disease has not been standardized to date, with little consensus on what the best practices are to relieve patient suffering. Some studies are underway, but more work is needed.”

Finally the Central New York Lyme and Tick Borne Illness Institute has launched, supporting the collaboration of professionals on education, clinical research and environmental fronts in the region. The organization expects to announce key initiatives later this year.

My family has faced the long-term impact of Lyme, and we are committed to helping other families access resources and coordinated care. But it starts with good prevention and educated providers who catch the disease early when prevention fails.

Please take the time to learn more about Lyme and tick-borne illness.