Letter to the Editor, 3 March 2019 ~ Fighting Ticks and Tick-Borne Disease

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By Sarah Legge

My 3-year-old son was bitten by a tick this week. We found the tick embedded in his head as we put him to bed on Tuesday, April 2. We had been a few hikes over the weekend in our neighborhood (including one at Fawn Lake in Bedford), which may have been where he picked up the tick. Or it may have come from our backyard, hopped off our dog, or from a walk at his daycare (also in Bedford) earlier in that day. We weren’t expecting to have to worry about ticks so early in the spring, but, sadly, that was a mistake. I’m writing to share this experience and to encourage you to reach out to your representatives to support an increase in funding for tick-borne diseases and Lyme disease prevention in Massachusetts.

I find it appalling that the only medical counsel provided to parents in my situation is a wait-and-see approach. We are told to look for a rash and monitor our child for a month to screen for a potentially debilitating disease. I could advocate for a round of prophylactic antibiotics for my son, but 3 weeks of antibiotics for a 3-year-old that may not have been exposed and who has never taken antibiotics before? Waiting for a rash, fatigue, or other symptoms that may or may not appear? Paying $50 for a tick test that could potentially make us more anxious and still not give us definitive answers? We should have better options at this point.

The tick that carries Lyme disease (and many other illnesses as well) is spreading across the US and its population is exploding in Massachusetts and here in Bedford. With climate change, these ticks are not only spreading, but they are also more active for a longer portion of the year. It is disheartening that many of the tick literature says “Lyme disease is preventable” and lists easy steps like “doing a full body check every time you come back into your house”. I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. Doing full body checks, all year long, every time we leave and enter our house does not seem reasonable. Besides, some ticks are so small (the nymph stage) that they could easily be missed during a body check, especially on a squirmy one-year-old. Other “easy” options include full body permethrin suits/socks, showering after every trip outdoors, or spraying my children down with DEET. Really?

Getting out in nature is critical for physical and mental health. I’ve experienced the curative effect of taking time out to commune with nature during hiking, backpacking, and time spent outdoors. I want to share those experiences with my children and I want them to value spending time in nature. Fresh air can truly work wonders. I do not want to hesitate to let my children play in my own backyard or neighborhood because of a potentially debilitating illness – that could be prevented.

Please help to take active steps to control the spread of ticks in our neighborhoods. Please advocate for funding for a Lyme Disease vaccine and more affordable, effective, and accessible tests for Lyme disease. The United States and the state of Massachusetts could fund and find solutions for tick-borne diseases. Please do everything you can to support these causes and increase funding for research into tick-borne diseases. Tens of thousands of residents of Massachusetts are expected to contract a tick-borne disease – it is critical that we fund the science that solves this epidemic.

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