Talking Ticks in the Hasidic Catskills

'Yesh Tickva' Aims to Raise Awareness About the Disease

Summer Idyll: Ticks abound in the picturesque Catskills.
Tiner Ralph, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Summer Idyll: Ticks abound in the picturesque Catskills.

By Danielle Schlanger

Published May 25, 2014, issue of May 30, 2014.
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“Often, if you find that you’ve seen a doctor and you still are ill with some kind of chronic condition, it’s worth looking again at Lyme disease, even if your tests don’t show it,” explained Daniel Cameron, an internist and epidemiologist in Mount Kisco, New York. Cameron has been treating Lyme disease since 1987 and has seen thousands of patients who have become sick from ticks.

Isaacson went to “at least 15 doctors” before a close friend recognized that her symptoms were similar to those of her sister, who suffers from Lyme disease. In the summer of 2003, Isaacson had visited her children in Sullivan County. Two weeks after returning home, she developed flulike symptoms and began having trouble breathing, gastrointestinal distress, and numbness and tingling in her extremities. She described feeling “extreme brain fog” and as though “she was solidified with cement.”

Rachel G., a 37-year-old mother of three from Boro Park, was sick for roughly 15 years before receiving her diagnosis of Lyme disease. (She asked that her last name be omitted for privacy reasons.) After the birth of her first child, she went to Monticello to recover and spend time with her mother. Upon returning to Brooklyn, Rachel G. began having crippling migraines, which persisted for years. She also experienced recurring urinary tract infections, bronchitis and inflammation of multiple joints.

“My life was literally put on hold,” she said. “It came to a point that the headaches were so severe, I used to get seizures from them.” She went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for her seizures, which by then were occurring almost daily. There, she was diagnosed with nonepileptic seizures. But Rachel G. wasn’t getting better.

“I was a 28-year-old, and I was taking more medication than an 80-year-old grandmother,” she said. Only when Rachel G. read an article in Binah, a weekly magazine for Jewish women, about a young community member afflicted with Lyme disease did she realize that this was likely the culprit. A New York City physician later diagnosed her with Lyme disease; she is now undergoing treatment.

The Catskills, which comprise Sullivan, Ulster, Delaware and Greene counties, is known as “tick central.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011 there were 256 reported cases of Lyme disease in Sullivan County. However, Cameron suspects that the vast majority of incidents are not reported, and so the number is likely 10 times this amount. There are no statistics on Lyme disease in the Hasidic community.

“It’s a region for which I would probably use the word hyper-endemic,” said Kenneth Liegner, a physician in private practice who treats Lyme disease. “The lower Hudson Valley is one of the biggest hotspots for Lyme in the country, if not the world.”

In Brooklyn, Yesh Tickva hopes to educate the Jewish community on how Lyme disease can pose a serious threat to one’s health.

Isaacson described last summer as “an epidemic” due to the mild winter, which allows ticks to arise from their dormant state earlier than usual. She recounted how she received phone calls daily from community members worried they may have contracted a tick-borne disease in the mountains.


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