PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health is considering its options to reduce the spread of tick-borne diseases.
The Health Department has been noticing a steady increase in tick-borne illnesses recently and is now wondering what options it has to help control it.
"Lyme, HGA, and babesiosis, have increased from 2016 to 2017. I saw a few more cases of Lyme in the past day or two. That Lyme case makes 113, 114 now compared to 87 last year," Public health nurse Kayla Donnelly-Winters said.
Donnelly-Winters said the numbers have been rising across the county with Pittsfield and Great Barrington toward the top of the number of incidents. In 2014, there were only 51 cases of Lyme in Pittsfield, which jumped to 82 last year. The increases in other tick-borne illness are rising at about the same pace, though with lesser numbers.
"This year was obviously worse. I don't know if it is an increase in reporting or if it is an increase of tick-borne illness," she said.
She said the rising numbers could be attributed to more health officials testing and reporting for it because of a greater awareness than before.
Board of Health member Dr. Alan Kulberg said, even so, the numbers will be greatly underreported still. He said in many cases Lyme is obvious and a practitioner will diagnosis it without doing lab tests. The lab tests at Berkshire Medical Center are the ones reported to the state Department of Public Health.
"Most come from the ER because people get so sick," Donnelly-Winters said of the tests that are ordered.
Donnelly-Winters spent much of her summer focused on getting information out to the public about it. She has had tables at Third Thursday, did radio advertisements, and passed out informational fliers about it. But mostly the information was for how residents can protect themselves.
She will now join Health Director Gina Armstrong at a symposium focused on providing information and tools for preventions and answering questions about Lyme. She said the goal is to start thinking about the next steps.
Board of Health Chairman Jay Green likened the discussion to mosquito control. Every year the city pays to be part of the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project to reduce mosquito breeding grounds, monitor populations, test for the presence of diseases and then sprays in response to disease prevalence.
"We spend a whole three-hour board meeting every year gearing up for mosquitoes," Board of Health member Steve Smith said.
Green said since joining the disease numbers related to mosquitoes have decreased. He wondered if the board should start considering a similar program for ticks.
"These numbers show that something has to be done," Green said. "I feel over the last year we've been helpless with it."
Green said it may not have to be a program like that, but maybe enhancing public education so people know the risks and ways to prevent it may be enough. Donnelly-Winters said possible proactive steps will be discussed at the symposium and she will report back on options in the future.
Donnelly-Winters also monitors influenza, which starts to come into season in October and extends through the winter. So far, the season hasn't quite hit Pittsfield, she reported.
"As of right now the flu activity is minimal," she said.
But she expects that to change as the fall fades into winter. Donnelly-Winters has spent multiple days giving out flu shots to hundreds of city employees.
"We are almost out of vaccine. I think we have 12 left," Donnelly-Winters said.
Lastly, she reported that the new prescription drop box has been installed at Flynn's Pharmacy, becoming the first pharmacy in the county to have such one. The boxes are there for residents to get rid of old medications, particularly addictive pain pills. The boxes have traditionally been located at Police Departments.
"A lot of people feel uncomfortable going to the police station to drop the medications off," Donnelly-Winters said. "We're going to see how it works for a year and then go from there and see if we can get other pharmacies on board."
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