Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MARYLAND NEWS: Battling Lyme in the 'Burbs

The Segal family of North Potomac once considered their expansive backyard, with its swimming pool and wooden playhouse, as a bit of paradise.

But after both Dan and Mimi Segal and three of their four children fell seriously ill due to Lyme disease caused by deer tick bites, it seems more like enemy territory.

‘‘We used to think of our backyard as another room in our house but we don’t go out there much anymore,” said Mimi Segal.

Not since 2000, when the disease known as the ‘‘great masquerader” because it mimics other disorders, began to put the family through a nightmare of symptoms.

‘‘My son Sam is 17 and should be having fun selecting the college of his choice, but he’s had to pick one based on the distance to his Lyme disease doctor,” Mimi Segal said. ‘‘Who knew sitting in your backyard could be a high risk activity?”

That’s why Mimi Segal has talked about the problem at area PTAs and civic associations since last fall. And now she and her husband are kicking off their newly named effort, ‘‘Montgomery County Tick Reduction Program,” in their own neighborhood of 18 years, Potomac Chase Estates.

Working with their HOA, they plan to install deer feeding stations filled with corn throughout the heavily wooded community of 70 homes on about 160 acres.

As deer poke their heads into the boxes to feed, rollers apply a tick-killing pesticide called ‘‘permithrin” to their necks.

‘‘It’s a very low dose, but it goes directly to the tick-infested neck and head and kills adult [tick] females,” she said.

They also want to place ‘‘tick tubes,” biodegradable toilet paper-like tubes filled with permithrin-soaked cotton, around the neighborhood. The tubes attract mice, the disease carriers responsible for infecting ticks with the bacteria.

Statewide reporting of confirmed cases showed a 39 percent increase from 2004 to 2005, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Segals believe their neighborhood is ‘‘hot spot” for the disease due to the herds of deer roaming their wooded streets.

But they agree with Rob Gibson, natural resource manager for Montgomery County, that killing off deer herds is not the answer.

‘‘Deer are probably responsible for spreading the disease into new areas, but once it’s there, the ticks can live on a variety of other hosts,” Gibson said.

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