The second annual Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education Conference at the Wiscasset Community Center will feature a full day of discussion on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
The event is free and doors will open for registration at 7:30 a.m. on the day of the conference, Saturday, April 30.
Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education co-founder Paula Jackson Jones, of Nobleboro, said spreading education and awareness regarding Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is a primary goal of the conference.
“We want to make people aware and educate them about prevention and, if you are infected, what to do about it,” Jones said. “The only way to reduce the growing epidemic is through awareness.”
The conference comes at an important time of the year when Maine residents prepare for the outdoor activities popular in the warmer months.
Jones said tick infestation levels are on the rise and this year’s level is higher than normal.
She said the Midcoast has seen a particularly high number of cases of Lyme disease and other tick- borne diseases compared to other regions of Maine.
“We are literally in the epicenter. Lincoln County is the epicenter of the epidemic for the state. Midcoast is the hardest-hit region,” Jones said.
Though Knox County has the highest prevalence of the disease in the state, Lincoln County has been second-highest since 2001, with Sagadahoc and Hancock County also reporting high numbers compared to other regions of Maine.
Jones said another emphasis of the conference is to clarify misconceptions surrounding Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
Jones said people can develop a false sense of security following an encounter with a tick if they are just looking for the classic bulls-eye around the bite.
Jones said the bulls-eye is only an indicator of one strain of the disease. She said tick-borne diseases can be transmitted in as short as 15 minutes from attachment, contrary to popular belief.
She was emphatic that due to the difficulty in accurately diagnosing these diseases, the importance of protection from ticks is paramount.
“The biggest thing is prevention, prevention, prevention,” Jones said.
She also said setting up multiple layers of barriers are critical to deter ticks, while still enjoying the outdoors.
Jones said there are multiple options, from wearing appropriate outerwear to covering the outerwear with a preferred repellent, in addition to treating one’s yards and pets.
“If you do not put repellent on your hair, skin, or clothing, you will come in contact with a tick. The infestation level of ticks are so unbelievably high, you are going to encounter them,” Jones said.
She said the conference will have fewer speakers this year, but speakers with a higher caliber of information to present.
Speakers will include Lyme Disease Association President Pat Smith and Lymedisease.org Vice President of Education and Outreach Dorothy Leland. The Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors will hold a question-and-answer panel on the role of naturopathic medicine in managing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
More than 25 vendors will offer products and services to those affected by Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
The event’s keynote speaker is Dr. Daniel Cameron, of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., a nationally recognized epidemiologist who works on the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
Jones said Cameron was instrumental in creating guidelines for the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society to counter the complexity of tick-borne diseases not illustrated in the guidelines followed by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
She said she is looking forward to hearing him speak.
“We were just thrilled when Dr. Cameron accepted our invitation,” Jones said.
She said Cameron has authored new guidelines regarding tick-borne diseases and the peer-to-peer perspective he offers to other doctors could be integral for an increased understanding of the debilitating illnesses.
Also appearing at the conference will be local legislators, who will discuss Lyme legislation in the state of Maine.
Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, and Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, will speak, along with Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford.
For more information about Midcoast Lyme Disease Support and Education, go to midcoastlymediseasesupport.blogspot.com or call Jones at 446-6447.
To spread its message of awareness and prevention, the group travels from Freeport to Belfast and was recently on Main Street in Damariscotta, in front of Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop, on Saturday, April 23.
In addition to the educational focus of its activities, Jones said the organization provides support to the community and caregivers.
“When someone gets Lyme, it impacts the whole family. We want to add support and understanding,” Jones said.