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Lyme sufferers defend 4-posters

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Two ticks engorged with human blood.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Two ticks engorged with human blood.

Those who deny the effectiveness of 4-posters and the importance of spending money to lessen the tick infestation and cull the deer herd “are not doing a public service.”

So said Dr. Vincent DiGregorio, a member of the Shelter Island Deer & Tick Committee, a medical doctor and a three-time Lyme disease sufferer.

His initial battle with the tick-borne disease was in the 1990s, to be repeated in the early 2000s and again — more recently and most seriously — by an attack that affected his nervous system and required two weeks of intravenous doses of the drug Rocephin administered daily as a hospital outpatient.

“This is a public health issue,” Dr. DiGregorio said, calling on Suffolk County and New York State to fund efforts to reduce tick-borne diseases that the town can ill afford to tackle.

While some critics dismiss the seriousness of Lyme disease because many who contract it are easily cured with a round of antibiotics, that’s not the case for everyone, Dr. DiGregorio said.

Jackie Black, another member of the town’s Deer & Tick Committee, was certainly aware of the tick infestation on Shelter Island when she became ill in September 2012. But her pain was in knee joints and prompted her to see her orthopedist who began treatments for arthritic knees. That the pain was in both knees was a clue the cause wasn’t arthritic, Ms. Black said. And when the pain failed to abate, she saw a specialist and got blood tests revealing that despite her precautions at checking herself carefully for ticks, she had contracted Lyme disease.

Even discovering the disease in an early stage, it took a six-week treatment period of antibiotics she describes as “very helpful.” But almost two years later, she reports that her knees are still not right and she suffers from residual pain.

National statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that about 5 percent of those who contract Lyme experience it asa chronic illness.

The increasing number of patients suffering from tick-borne illnesses on the East End prompted Southampton Hospital to launch its Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center to provide education, prevention and treatment options.

The new center creates an advisory panel of doctors in family practice, internal medicine, infectious disease, allergy, pediatrics, emergency medicine, neurology, rheumatology and psychology.

Lyme may be the best known of the tick-borne illnesses, but others include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia.

On Saturday, May 31, at Parrish Memorial Hall on Herrick Road, a free panel discussion will feature Dr. Rajeev Fernando, director of the infectious diseases at Southampton Hospital; Dr. George Dempsey and physicians’ assistant Gerald Simons of East Hampton Family Medicine; and Dr. Anthony Knott of the Meeting House Lane Medical Practice in Montauk, who will discuss the illnesses and Southampton Hospital’s new center’s approach to dealing with them. The panel gets underway at  10:30 a.m.

“If there is under-diagnosis,” Dr. Dempsey said, “it would not be because physicians in the community are not testing enough, but more likely that persons with the illness, recovering on their own, are not being detected,” he said.

Dr. DiGregorio agreed, noting the number of sufferers from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is much greater and is — especially in areas like Shelter Island — being vastly under-reported. That’s because a significant portion of the Island population is made up of part-timers who live elsewhere much of the year and seek treatment in their home communities, he said.

To control the diseases here, it takes both the effort to reduce ticks and to cull the deer herd, Dr. DiGregorio said. And it’s not just a human problem.“Not controlling the deer population is cruel for the deer,” he added.

Driving from Shelter Island to his practice in Garden City and to Winthrop University Hospital where he is chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery, Dr. DiGregorio has observed numerous deer grazing by the roadside on Sunrise Highway. With traffic traveling at 70 mph, the likelihood of a fatal accident is great, he said. And even here on Shelter Island, he observed 17 deer along Westmoreland last Saturday at twilight.

But it’s no longer possible for individual towns to bear the expense of programs necessary to deal with the “epidemic,” Dr. DiGregorio said.

Former Islander Julius Manchise joins in the call for support of the 4-posters, a subject he has discussed with Richard Kelly, an outspoken opponent of the units he insists are ineffective. Before moving to Middle Island to be closer to his medical doctors, Mr. Manchise lived in Silver Beach and was president of the Silver Beach Association.

He regularly walked his dog in the area and prior to the 4-posters, had to remove numerous ticks from his pet every time the animal came indoors. Once the 4-posters were in place, the number of ticks he found was vastly diminished and finally got down to only an occasional tick.

“This is an absolute miracle,” Mr. Manchise said. “The 4-posters work wonderfully.”