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Editorial: Best cure for Lyme disease is prevention

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Several public forums about Lyme disease have been held in local communities in recent weeks. The fact that these public discussions were held at all is testament to the widespread concerns, confusion and controversy that surround Lyme.

Nearly everything about this tick-borne ailment — from its symptoms, to diagnosis, to treatment — is subject to dispute. Medical professionals disagree among themselves, as do patients.

At a forum held recently at Northampton’s Forbes Library, Dr. Charles Brummer noted that Lyme has been called “the great impersonator,” owing to its ability to mimic other conditions and to present an array of symptoms that, as he put it, “are tremendously nonspecific,” including fever, aches and pains, headaches and other flu-like discomforts.

Brummer, of Northampton, noted the different assumptions and approaches to Lyme disease advocated by two medical groups: the Infectious Disease Society and the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. A lengthy June 2 report in the Boston Globe laid out in detail the roiling debates among doctors, public health officials and patients. The paper says its coverage of Lyme’s complexities, as a disease and a matter of public policy, will continue.

Patients — especially, of course, those struggling with the physical and emotional suffering that Lyme can cause — are understandably frustrated by the lack of definitive information and concrete answers. But airing the many questions that surround Lyme, and giving patients the opportunity to educate themselves and sort through it all, is an essential service.

The May 21 Gazette article about a Lyme disease forum at Forbes Library offered useful tips on the subject of prevention.

To be sure, it has all been said before — but with so much about Lyme disease in dispute, it only makes sense to be vigilant.

A few points bear repeating: Avoid deer tick habitats, such as tall grasses and the edges of fields; wear long pants and shirts and tuck pant legs into socks; use tick repellents like Deet or Permathrin on clothing, or Skin So Soft Plus on skin; and if you find a tick on yourself or a pet, place tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out.

At that same May forum, Maria Malaguti, who contracted Lyme disease in 1997, spoke of her efforts to open a Lyme Disease Resource Center in Northampton in the fall. Malaguti said she envisions the center as a place for education, outreach, support groups and consultation.

The kind of center she suggests has the potential to play an important role in helping Lyme disease patients make decisions about their options for care.

The Boston Globe called Massachusetts “an epicenter” for Lyme, where between 15,000 and 30,000 people are likely to become infected this year.

With so many unknowns about Lyme, it’s up to all of us to be proactive — and that means taking steps for prevention outdoors, and educating ourselves as best we can about avoiding this disease.

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