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New Tick-Borne Disease Committee Will Study Why Locals Seem Lax About Lyme



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New Tick-Borne Disease Committee Will Study Why Locals Seem Lax About Lyme

By John Voket

The Board of Selectmen heard from the co-chairs of the town’s newly created Education & Prevention Committee for Tick-Borne Disease during a meeting on September 4.

School District Health Coordinator Judy Blanchard and Health District Director Donna Culbert, who co-chair the panel, appeared before the selectmen to discuss how they will ramp up education and prevention efforts in a community that is disproportionately affected by tick-borne maladies including Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and even more exotic illnesses like Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

During introductory remarks, Ms Culbert extended her appreciation to the now deactivated Tick-Borne Disease Action Committee (TBDAC), which produced a significant amount of localized research and a split recommendation on how the town should move forward to address the proliferation of these often insidious illnesses that can touch some individuals minimally or temporarily, while impacting others with intense or lifelong after-effects.

Ms Culbert also told the selectmen that while she values the TBDAC’s efforts during the year and a half the panel was active, she would rather call upon its members to provide resources for the new committee versus having any of them serving on it.

“We want to take their work and move forward with educational and marketing [efforts], as well as tapping into the local community of physicians,” Ms Culbert said.

The health official instead hopes to keep the new group to about seven members including herself and Ms Blanchard, a marketing professional, and a Western Connecticut State University professor who will be named once the entire committee has been recruited.

Ms Culbert said the professor in particular will be charged with helping the town develop a survey to find out what residents know and do not know about tick-borne diseases, and why they choose not to take preventative measures if they are aware of the heightened risk for contracting a tick-borne disease by living and recreating in the region.

Ms Blanchard said she and Ms Culbert read and studied the entire TBDAC report, marking up areas related to education and prevention.

“We will turn to members of the TBDAC as a support network,” she said.

Ms Culbert said she plans to come back in front of selectmen in November to discuss the implementation of any programs or ideas from the committee, and to request a budget in the event any of the plans involve related outreach costs. She and Ms Blanchard hope to have an education initiative finalized by February in order to begin outreach in late winter, when ticks typically start becoming active.

By surveying residents about what they know or don’t know about tick-borne disease and prevention, the committee can then plan its outreach to “fill in the gaps, and determine the best delivery systems for education — also targeting parents of young children and seniors, who are the two most vulnerable populations,” Ms Culbert said.

To minimize cost and the appearance that residents are being “asked the same questions twice,” the committee will seek to piggyback its survey materials with those that will be circulated by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). First Selectman Pat Llodra said she would reach out to the DEEP to determine the feasibility of piggybacking the local survey with the state survey that is due to begin circulating in the fall.

Mrs Llodra said while the new local committee and DEEP have “different objectives; they complement each other.”

Ms Blanchard said she is concerned the committee will learn that even “educated people are not convinced to take personal responsibility to protect themselves” from tick-borne diseases. Ms Culbert added that the committee will also have to focus on all tick-borne diseases that might affect Newtowners, not just Lyme disease.

Additional Education

Dr Michelle McLeod, who co-chaired the TBDAC and was on hand for the meeting September 4, said the Health District has already taken an important step adopting an education and prevention system called BLAST. Along with BLAST literature sent to all residents in local tax bills, Dr McLeod said the outreach also provides presentations suitable for children, high schoolers, and adults.

Neil K. Chaudhary, who served on the TBDAC, also appeared, suggesting the new committee seek the advice of a social scientist who can help the panel tap into the emotions and reactions that could influence them to be more receptive to outreach and education efforts.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident David Shugarts, who provided staff support to the TBDAC, read from a multipage document calling for the committee to recruit either resident Maggie Shaw or Kim Harrison, who established an ad hoc group known as the Newtown Lyme Disease Task Force.

Mr Shugarts also called for a verified school-based curriculum addressing tick-borne diseases and prevention beginning in the earliest grades, which might include activities like daily tick checks when students come in from recess or field trips. He also suggested using a film called Time For Lyme, stating that a teaching kit including the film was presented for use to the school district several years ago, which was never implemented.

Dr McLeod later told selectmen that the TBDAC considered the film, but would not recommend its use because some of the information presented was “not accurate according to physicians.” She also said some of the material might be too graphic or scary for younger or easily frightened children.

Later in the meeting Mr Shugarts suggested the school district consider using the teaching tools that were provided, even if the decision to not use the movie was upheld.

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