Hudson Valley journalist explores the human contribution to Lyme disease

Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In her new book, “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change,” author and journalist Mary Beth Pfeiffer documents the human contribution to the spread of Lyme disease to dozens of countries and multitudes of people, challenging the medical advice that has left many untreated.

Pfeiffer began writing about Lyme disease for the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2012. After experiencing first-hand how Lyme disease can be hidden, she found through her research that many patients across New York do not get the care necessary to fully fight the disease.

Pfeiffer discovered patients with late-stage Lyme disease who needed care but could not find doctors to treat them, with some patients seeing 10 or 20 doctors in search of treatment. They were often prescribed drugs for depression or anxiety, or given medication to lessen their symptoms, but were never tested for the cause of their illness.

Author and journalist Mary Beth Pfeiffer

“I discovered that Lyme disease was a very controversial disease, that the test to diagnosis it was highly unreliable, and that people who stayed sick after treatment had been shunned by the modern medicine,” Pfeiffer said. “That story led to my book.”

For these reasons, she considers Lyme disease an epidemic that the public is not aware of, but should know about, because it affects so many New Yorkers.

To study this epidemic more, Pfeiffer traveled to Europe three times, interviewed patients from Australia to California, and found much of the same situation: people cannot get care when Lyme disease gets out of control.

Although her book includes true medical accounts, she relies on scientific evidence to support her theories. Her book explores the findings of more than 300 scientific papers and interviews conducted with many scientists.

The scientific papers showed detailed documents of tests failing, how common antibiotics may not kill the Lyme disease pathogen and how billions of ticks are moving around the planet. After her research, Pfeiffer’s evidence clearly points to climate change as a cause of Lyme disease spreading around the world. Ticks can now survive in places they never could before. She warns that they are a serious threat, especially to children, who are the most frequently bitten and infected.

People with late-stage Lyme disease often have to seek out Lyme specialists that are not covered by insurance plans. Health insurers have refused to pay for treatments for late-stage Lyme disease, like intravenous antibiotics, that can be very expensive. Those suffering from chronic Lyme and other tick-borne diseases can experience extreme and long term fatigue, nausea, depression, joint pain and many other severe symptoms.

“We need far more public education, including signs warning of ticks on every nature trail, in every park and at ball fields and other places where people congregate,” Pfeiffer said. “People need to be warned. People need to know how to prevent themselves from being bitten by ticks.”

Pfeiffer specifically mentions three bills, all sponsored by Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Millbrook, she believes would be the most effective in addressing some of the problems she has discovered.

For example, bill (A.4863-a) would require a study and report on the adequacy of insurance coverage for the treatment of Lyme disease and other tick-borne related diseases. Currently, health insurance companies are not required to cover long term treatment for those who suffer from chronic Lyme or other tick-borne diseases.

Another bill (A.2809-a) would require the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation to develop recommendations by May 1, 2019 for best practices in treating residential properties for tick prevention and management—the goal ultimately being to rid communities of ticks that contribute to tick-borne infections. New York state currently has the third highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in the entire country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The third bill (A. 8829-a) would add a new section directing the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to install and maintain tick warning signs, including trail entryways and campgrounds from information identified in health surveillance data. The signs would inform the public that ticks may be found in such areas and that they can cause Lyme or other tick-borne diseases.

“One bill would start to address that by requiring the Health Department to look into the adequacy of coverage,” Pfeiffer said. “Rhode Island and Connecticut have already passed laws to require coverage for advance Lyme disease. New York should do the same.”

To speak about her new book and concerns about Lyme disease, Pfeiffer is hosting a talk at Adirondack Community College today.

WAMC Northeast Public Radio will air an interview between Pfeiffer and Alan Chartock on April 5 at 1:00 p.m.

On April 29 Pfeiffer will be at the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs to discuss her book and sign copies, beginning at 6 p.m.