End Lyme Disease Now! Support a coordinated multi agency approach by DEP and DPH

Mark Friedman MD

March 18, 2008

END LYME DISEASE NOW

As an emergency physician I have been a student of Lyme disease for more than 30 years. 

I have watched this disease grow from a scientific curiosity known only in an isolated corner of our state, to a regional and now national epidemic impacting tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people annually. 

Connecticut has the dubious distinction of being one of  10 states that account for 95% of reported cases. It is first in the nation in incidence of infection.

After 30 years Lyme disease and its implications are still seriously misunderstood by the general public and even many physicians and public health authorities. Both the bacterium responsible and late manifestations of the disease bear an uncanny resemblance to syphilis. While often curable in the early stages with a single course of antibiotics, failure to recognize and treat the disease can result in mysterious and debilitating late consequences such as muscle wasting, meningitis, and other serious diseases of the heart and central nervous system. If syphilis is the model for Lyme disease then physicians (and patients) will be dealing with the consequences of this epidemic for decades after the last case is contracted.

The common denominator in the spread of this terrible epidemic has been the overpopulation of white tailed deer. While deer are in some respects innocent carriers of the real culprit, the black legged or deer tick; they are a necessary host for the successful propagation of the tick species at a level that maintains the transmission of Lyme disease. This has been proven repeatedly in studies: on Monhegan Island in Maine, Great Island, Cape Cod, and right here in Connecticut in Bridgeport and at Mumford Cove.

The science is clear, but how much longer will it take people to accept it?  It took 1000 years for people to accept that the earth is not flat. 30 years to agree that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. 15 years to accept that seat belts save lives. Deer are necessary to support the ticks that transmit Lyme disease. 

The Connecticut College of Emergency Physicians recently sent a letter to Governor Rell supporting, “initiatives to change state policy to address the overpopulation of deer in Connecticut”.

We stand at a crossroads. Connecticut has the opportunity to be remembered as the place where Lyme disease was ended as well as where it began. We can go down in history along with the conquerors of smallpox, polio, yellow fever, and other contagious diseases. Or we can continue to allow our citizens to endure needless suffering, spend millions of dollars, and be afraid to step into the woodlands and fields of our beautiful state of Connecticut.

I recently (March 2008) gave supporting testimony at the Environment Committee’s public hearing on HB 5852:
AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONTROL OF LYME DISEASE which I urged you all to support. The Nature Conservancy and Connecticut Audubon Society also spoke out in favor of an urgent need for a state deer reduction program to save  shrub land bird habitat and native wildflowers from the destructive over feeding of deer.

The Environment Committee sent a clear message by supporting this bill overwhelmingly. HB 5852 asked for a state review and updating of the policy on deer population reduction as it relates to Lyme disease control and woodland damage. There continues to be much confusion on the relative roles of deer and white footed mice. We need our public health department and state funded tick experts to release a statement on the importance of each in the Lyme epidemic and help the public better understand how deer management to lower balanced levels will end this epidemic. The current level of public confusion fuels controversy and paralyzes progress towards a solution.

Through political leadership and public education we can reduce this terrible epidemic to a bad memory within a few short years for a minimal amount of money. Doing so would set an example for the rest of the country and save untold human suffering and economic resources. 

Call and write your legislators NOW to support a coordinated effort by our health and environment agencies to prevent this tick borne disease.

Mark L Friedman MD
St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Trauma and Emergency Medicine at the University of Connecticut