Crowd turns out for Lyme forum; film is next

A crowd of more than 80 Rappahannock residents gathered last Sunday at the Theatre in Washington – not the usual show of support for the arts, but in hopes of learning more about an anxiety-producing topic: Lyme disease.

The Lyme Forum, sponsored by the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP), was held to discuss prevention and symptoms of Lyme, a tick-borne bacterial illness transferred to outdoor-loving humans whose infection rate is on the rise in the U.S. The forum was the first of two related events – the second being a screening at 8 p.m. April 28 (also at the Theatre) of the documentary “Under Our Skin,” a compelling, award-winning look at the cases of a variety of the disease’s victims.

The first speaker at Sunday’s forum was Sam Quinn, a biologist now working at the Farm at Sunnyside. Quinn differentiated the three dominant local ticks: dog, lone star, and black-legged deer tick, the latter being the prime carrier of the Lyme spirochete.

Quinn outlined the life-cycle of the deer tick and explained that of the three stages – larval, nymph, adult – it is the nymph that is largely the troublemaker due to their numbers and detection difficulty as they are merely “the size of a period.”

Quinn said that ticks remain active in temperatures greater than 40 degrees – therefore very active this past winter. While the white-tailed deer allows for vast dissemination of Lyme, Quinn continued, it is the white-footed mouse which acts as the Lyme bacterium vector.

Tom Connally, a retired Sibley Hospital internist who has been Lyme-infected four times himself, addressed the similarities between the two spiral-shaped bacterium of Lyme and syphilis, both of which can affect the heart and brain if left untreated.

Connally stressed that the telltale Lyme rash does not always spread out as a “bull’s eye,” as “50 percent [of rashes] don’t get the white area” and simply remain all red. He urged people to get suspicious markings looked at and, if warranted, treated with antibiotics for at least 21 days.

To help prevent picking up ticks, Connally suggested, cover up in light-colored clothing to help spot ticks, spray neck and feet with DEET, and shower soon after being outside.

Leah Card of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is helping conduct a study of ticks and the prevalence of Lyme in our region. Thus far, they have found that 95 percent of ticks collected are the deer tick. They are seeking more tick samples from large animals in the area.