A William Haefeli cartoon published in The New Yorker in 1999 depicted a gardener talking to a neighbor over a hedge and saying, "We're thinking of moving to another part of the country, somewhere between Lyme disease and killer bees."
"That's kind of a drastic option," Neeta Connally told an audience of about 50 people Thursday at the Westport Public Library during a symposium on Lyme disease. Connally, a researcher and assistant professor at Western Connecticut State University, and three other Lyme disease experts provided more realistic solutions to prevent exposure to ticks, the tiny arthropods that have terrorized the nation for decades by spreading the serious illness.
Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D., vice director, chief entomologist and state entomologist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, recommended modifying backyard vegetation, clearing brush, restricting ground cover, creating tick-safe zones, spraying yards with pesticides or natural alternatives, and wearing protective clothing when hiking, gardening and playing outside.
"I wear long pants, even in the summer. I wear socks and I wear repellent," said Stafford, who offered the following statistics: 47 percent of Lyme disease cases result from outdoors play, 18 percent from doing yard work and 12 percent from gardening.
"We estimate that three quarters of the cases are picked up at home," Stafford said. He also stressed the importance of removing leaf litter and cleaning up stone walls. "They are essentially mouse hotels. They are the perfect environment for mice and the ticks," he said.
Connally, who presented her findings from a three-year study that evaluated various Lyme disease preventive measures, said Connecticut residents have gone out of their way to create "fragments of forest" to provide privacy on their properties, but homes closest to wooded areas will have more ticks.
"There is a close association between barberry and the abundance of ticks. Barberry does provide a suitable habitat for mice and ticks," Stafford said. He also talked about natural agents that are being tested for their efficacy against ticks, among them garlic, peppermint oil, and Nootkatone -- a combination of Alaska yellow cedar and grapefruit.
"Garlic appeared to suppress or control tick activity for two to three weeks," he said. Stafford suggested that the number of ticks and the incidence of Lyme disease, which is on the rise each year, could be minimized by reducing the state's deer population from the current 30 per square mile to 10 per square mile.
"It's interesting how we've gone from appreciating Bambi to repugnance in the last 30 years," said Richard Moon of Westport.
Panelist Zane Saul, M.D., a board-certified doctor of internal medicine specializing in infectious diseases, talked about treatments and their side effects, including one antibiotic that can cause sun burns so serious it could result in hospitalization. He also described an entity called Chronic Lyme, which has no known cause. Zane said its symptoms -- muscle pain, joint pain and fatigue -- persist beyond the course of treatment for Lyme disease. He also had a warning for pregnant women. Exposure to the disease during pregnancy can result in deformities and death in-utero.
Howard Maynard of Westport said he attended the symposium fully believing he would learn nothing new about Lyme disease, "but it was quite the contrary."
" I found it very informative. There are things we can do. I'm thinking my swing set is too close to the woods," said Connie Greenfield, whose grandchildren use it when they visit.
"I'm concerned about ticks. We do a lot of hiking," said Stewart Greenfield, Connie's husband.
Bonnie Moon, Richard's wife, said she was interested to learn that landscaping can be arranged or modified to create barriers to the ticks. "I thought that was helpful," she said.
Julie Ray, M.P.H., MEM program coordinator of the Yale University School of Public Health's Emerging Infections Program, encouraged people to enroll in a Lyme and Other Tick-borne Disease Prevention Study. The study will determine if tick-borne illnesses can be prevented with a single, targeted pesticide application. Enrollment will continue through April 30. Ray said the study plans to recruit 500 households in nine communities, including Westport and Weston.
Some participating properties will be sprayed with Bifenthrin, which has a proven record of efficacy for tick management. Other lawns will get an application of a placebo: water. Two hundred households have already enrolled, Ray said.
Thursday's forum was co-sponsored with the Westport-Weston Health District and the Turn the Corner Foundation. For more information about the Lyme disease prevention study call toll-free 1-888-668-1856 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the International Virtual Walk to Turn the Corner on Lyme event on May 15 visit www.turnthecorner.org.