June 16, 2024
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2019 Lyme Disease Conference covers funding, research, treatment, impact

More than 200 attend conference to learn more about Lyme disease

More than 200 people attended the 2019 Lyme Disease Conference on May 4, co-hosted by Binghamton University's Tick-borne Disease Research Center and Southern Tier Lyme Support Inc., and held at the University's Innovative Technologies Complex. More than 200 people attended the 2019 Lyme Disease Conference on May 4, co-hosted by Binghamton University's Tick-borne Disease Research Center and Southern Tier Lyme Support Inc., and held at the University's Innovative Technologies Complex.
More than 200 people attended the 2019 Lyme Disease Conference on May 4, co-hosted by Binghamton University's Tick-borne Disease Research Center and Southern Tier Lyme Support Inc., and held at the University's Innovative Technologies Complex. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Researchers, healthcare providers and those who have contracted Lyme disease or know someone who has attended the 2019 Lyme Disease Conference held at Binghamton University’s Innovative Technologies Complex on May 4.

Binghamton University’s Tick-borne Disease Research Center and Southern Tier Lyme Support, Inc. co-hosted the conference, which drew well over 200 registrants to hear from speakers on topics ranging from advocacy for research funding to how the disease is transmitted to Lyme disease in animals.

Speaking about why there is a need for research funding, Jill Auerbach, with the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association, said that the cost burden of Lyme disease continues to grow. From 1900 to 2017, the cost burden of the disease in the United States amounted to more than $72.4 billion. In 2017 alone, the cost burden of the disease in the United States was nearly $5 billion. New York state’s portion of that burden was over $1 billion in 2017, though Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures are lower because the CDC can only use actual surveillance case numbers.

“Yet, it’s shocking when we see what has been spent on research when chronic illness is 86 percent of our healthcare dollars and Lyme patients can be considered chronically ill,” she said.

“The stage of the tick that seems to cause the most problems is the nymphal tick and it’s only the size of a poppy seed,” Auerbach said before mentioning that a 3-year-old child recently had 32 nymphal ticks removed after visiting a park in her neighborhood, and children ages 5-9 are most at risk. “I look forward to when children can roll in the grass and jump into piles of leaves like I did when I was a child.”

National Institutes of Health funding has not increased even with increased Lyme case numbers, Auerbach added. “The United States must develop a proactive, forwarding-looking approach in response to this increasing problem. There is a report to be out by the end of June from the CDC about collaboration on vector-borne diseases and we’re hoping that there will be increased funding.”

Brian Leydet, assistant professor of environmental and forest biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, has been studying Lyme disease for 14 years, and calls it a journey. “Lyme spirochete bacteria is really pretty under a microscope,” he said, “but not when it’s inside you.”

Calling the bacteria that causes Lyme disease [Borrelia burgdorferi ] highly motile, Leydet reviewed the life cycle of a tick and said that 10-20 percent of those affected by Lyme each year are having chronic issues.

“Europe has a problem as well,” he said. “It’s a global problem, but in Europe things look a little different and clinically the disease is different.”

Leydet has focused some of his research on the Adirondacks in northern New York. “For the longest time, the Adirondacks were void of ticks, but that’s no longer the case,” he said. “And areas in downstate were plateauing. Still not great, but in the rest of the state things were getting worse and more and more people started getting Lyme disease.”

Results of his early research show there are still fewer infected ticks in the Adirondacks than in the Albany area, (36 percent to 61 percent, respectively), but 42 percent of the infected ticks in the Adirondacks carried the human invasive bacteria.

More intense studies have followed, including ones to look at tick-rich and tick-poor areas.

“We’re looking at some ways to control the disease,” he said. “Our goal is to understand the disease and decrease risk. That’s the only thing that works right now.”

He and his research team are also looking at what he described as a crazy idea – to actually modify the landscape to modify animal communities – as well as testing of natural repellants.

Bettina Wagner, a veterinarian and professor and chair of the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, addressed the issue of Lyme disease in animals.

Animals can be infected with the bacteria and develop Lyme disease, she said, but they cannot pass it along to humans. “There is no continuation of the life cycle if the animal gets infected —with one exception,” she said. “If you pull an infected tick out of a dog or other animal, it can still climb on you or another human, so make sure you kill the tick.”

Wagner said it takes time for the clinical signs of Lyme disease to show. “Since they don’t show the bullseye rash, you might see signs several months later when they are already at the chronic stage. When they show clinical signs they are far along in infection,” she said.

A veterinarian treats animals with Lyme disease the same way a physician treats it in humans — with antibiotics and most typically for 30 days with doxycycline, Wagner said. “Treatment success is indicated by improved clinical performance (horse feels and moves better) and the decline of antibodies to B. burgdorferi.”

Wagner also noted that there is a vaccine for animals, but it cannot be used as a population approach and is short-lasting so needs to be administered on an annual or more frequent basis.

“It’s an individual vaccine that just cares about the animals themselves,” she said. “It doesn’t make any difference if the animal is in contact with others that are infected. And the recommendations are to vaccinate in close proximity to tick season and confirm that your animal responds to the vaccine.”

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