Lyme Connection targets the diseases ticks spread
“Fall is tick season,” said Karen Gaudian of the Lyme Connection. “Everybody thinks they made it through the summer so it’s over. But October, November, ticks are very active. That’s when the adult ticks are looking for that final meal before they lay their eggs. They lay 2,000 to 3,000 eggs.
“It’s a very bad tick year,” she added. “Two years ago there an acorn boom, last year there was an explosion of mice and chipmunks, which led to an explosion this year of the tick population because there were so many rodents running around for the larval ticks to feed on.”
And ticks are carriers of more than Lyme disease.
“They’re finding new infections every year that the ticks are carrying,” Gaudian said.
“There’s Lyme disease, Bartonella, Babesia (babesiosis), anaplasmosis (Ehrlichia), and Powassan. And the big thing with Powassan is it has, I believe, a 5% to 10% fatality rate. There was a death this spring in Connecticut from it.
“There was a death from Powassan, and there was a death just a few weeks ago, a young man 55 years old, from Babesia,” Gaudian said.
Awareness is growing of the variety of diseases — in addition to Lyme — that ticks bites can cause.
“So all these co-infections make for a much more complicated medical picture, much more difficult to treat.”
“When you get bit by a tick that’s co-infected you get a much more complicated picture,” she said.
Based on what she hears at the Lyme disease support group, Gaudian worries that untreated Lyme disease may be implicated in a number of very serious diseases and conditions — many involving the nervous system and bringing severe, debilitating cognitive effects.
“Most of us when we think of Lyme disease will think of bull’s-eye rash and a swollen knee,” she said. “The number of people coming in has risen and the disability these patients are facing can be profound.”
To minimize chances of getting Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections, Gaudian said, the recommended practice is now bathing and showering after being in an environment where ticks are likely to be found.
“To stay safe, the scientific research — a three-year study out of Yale — has shown that bathing or showering after outdoor activity is the best way to prevent infection,” she said.
To get the word out, the Lyme Connection has a publicity campaign with two billboards — one on White Street in Danbury, across from the courthouse, and another on Route 6 in Bethel. Billboard advertising isn’t allowed in Ridgefield.
“We wanted to reach out to a broader community,” Gaudian said. “We’re the only town-sponsored organization in the state that is doing anything to raise awareness, support patients, and prevent more people from becoming infected,” she said.
The Leir Charitable Foundation financed the billboards.
Lyme disease is a problem that Gaudian — who works as the town’s municipal agent for the elderly — has been involved with for years as a volunteer, along with Lyme Connection co-founder Jennifer Reid.
“We run a support group for patients and caregivers with Lyme that meets twice a month,” she said. “We average about eight to 12 people twice a month, but lately those numbers have kicked up quite a bit. We’ve had a couple of meetings with 18 to 20.
“This spring it will be 15 years since Jennifer Reid and I started the group,” Gaudian said.
A state grant paid for development of the initial program, and since then Reid has been leading a group of volunteers who keep the program going.
“They do health fairs, corporate health programs. She’s been all over the state,” Gaudian said.
“We’ve been doing patient conferences at WestConn for 15 years. We get the top researchers and practitioners from around the country to come speak at WestConn every May.”
More information and applications are available at LymeConnection.org.