Findings from a study conducted by Binghamton University Lyme disease researchers Ralph M. Garruto and Amanda Roome revealed there are more infected ticks in suburban areas with heavy foot traffic.
“Where you have more people, you have more infected ticks,” Roome said Saturday during the Lyme Disease Conference at BU. “It’s not when you’re in the middle of nowhere backpacking in the Appalachian trail.”
The study began a conference presented by BU and Southern Tier Lyme Support Inc. at the university, drawing about 500 people.
Garruto, a research professor of biomedical anthropology at BU and a member of the National Academics of Sciences, began the study in 2011. Roome, a biomedical anthropology Ph.D. student at BU, joined the team of researchers and students in 2012.
Data were gathered across six counties in New York, including Broome County — on BU’s campus, Wolfe Park, Aqua-Terra Park, Chenango Valley State Park and Finch Hollow Nature Center, among others.
“Usually, you think that the at-risk areas are when you’re hiking, when you’re in the backwoods,” Roome said in an interview following the presentation. “But it’s more where there’s populated areas is where the bigger problem is.”
Roome, Garruto and their team are working to finish up a model created by the study. Currently, the model is scaled down to BU’s campus. The next step is to expand the model to apply to the six counties studied and later make it more broadly applicable to the Northeast.
“We’re hoping, with something like this, this can be put in place before it gets to areas and gets really bad,” Roome said of their model. The team will spend the summer studying tick activity in local neighborhoods.
Lynn Usack, 54, of Lockwood, Tioga County, does not have Lyme disease but came because she wanted to know what is being done to fix the epidemic.
“It’s really interesting, because it’s now the high-traffic areas that we have to think about,” Usack said. “And that’s really strange to me, because I didn’t think about that before at all.”
Other speakers at Saturday’s conference included Bob Giguere, of Igenex Laboratories; Kenneth Bock, Lyme disease expert and doctor; and Richard Horowitz, doctor and author of “Why Can’t I Get Better? Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease.”
Bock is the founder of Bock Integrative Medicine, in Red Hook, New York, who had his first Lyme disease patient in 1985 and has traveled the world to speak about Lyme.
“It’s important to educate people, because unfortunately, Lyme disease has been very politicized and polarized,” Bock said. “And there are different people looking at it in different ways. And it doesn’t mean that they’re not well-meaning, which is that they have different ways at looking at it.”
Much of the day’s conversation described Lyme as the “great imitator” of other diseases, causing a frequency of misdiagnoses. Bock said his job is like being a “medical detective.”
“It’s amazing; people think medicine is just black or white, or it’s just fact, but it’s not,” Bock said. “There are a lot of ways to interpret facts, and sometimes, the treatments are actually quite different, and it’s maybe hard for people to understand that. So, it’s very important to educate them.”
The conference was dedicated to Keara Mitchell, a 19-year-old Binghamton High School graduate who died in February of complications related to Lyme.
After her death, Keara Mitchell’s family and friends began placing stones around the world in honor of her love for travel and adventure.
Her mother, Kaethe Mitchel, is a former board member of Southern Tier Lyme Support Inc., and she and her family volunteered at Saturday’s conference.
Bruce Cole, 60, of Greene, was diagnosed with Lyme disease three years ago from a tick carried by his cat. He goes to Southern Tier Lyme Support Inc.’s conference every year.
“I’m here to learn about the latest testing, prevention treatments, so that’s why I’m here,” Cole said. “Because I do see some doctors, but it’s amazing how little a lot of the doctors know around here about Lyme disease and how to treat it.”