A Conversation with Jerry Simons

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Gerry Simons

Jerry Simons is a physician’s assistant who sits on Southampton Hospital’s Tick-Borne Disease Medical Advisory Panel and will be one of the speakers at a Q&A informational session at Bay Street Theater this weekend.

New information about tick-borne diseases seems to come out all the time—why is that?

Basically for a long time, it was all about Lyme disease, but now as the demographics and geography have changed, there are a lot of other tick-borne illnesses around. And there are certain illnesses that have been getting more attention—part of that is that the intensity of the diseases we’re seeing garners more attention. The newest diseases we have seen lately are the different viral illnesses—one of the most famous ones is the Pawassan virus. It’s not an infectious infection like hepatitis, but it behaves like it and it continually evolves in the body. That’s one of the things that’s so interesting: Lyme disease is a bacteria, Pawassan is a virus and Babesia is a parasite—and a cousin of Malaria. Those ticks are a Petrie dish—they can have several viruses, parasites and bacteria in just one. The other thing is that Lyme disease is not just one cookie cutter disease. When you’re in line at Schiavoni’s, you hear someone saying “I had Lyme disease, I had a headache and lost my car keys for a month.” Someone else had Lyme disease and got swollen knees. We’ll treat someone for arthritic Lyme and then they’ll develop neurological symptoms from the same bite.

And so when is prime tick season—when do people need to be most vigilant?

July and August is without a doubt the peak season. We start seeing our first tick bites early in March and in April and we see the last ones around Thanksgiving—usually when people rake up their leaves that ticks have been sitting under, staying warm. We see them all the way from March to November; the Centers for Disease Control has a picture on their website of a tick crawling through the snow—but they’re most active in the summer time. But in the spring they tend to be very hungry, and in the fall they want that one last bite to get that one last meal before winter.

How can people figure out what kind of tick has bitten them, and if they need to get it checked out?  

There are a few good apps for anyone with a smart phone. We use the tick encounter website, which is done by the University of Rhode Island. We don’t usually talk about ticks by size, because if they’ve been feeding it could change the whole demographic of the way the tick looks. Usually the little baby ticks have three legs, and as they get older they have four—so we use things like that. We recommend that people keep the ticks so we can have a look—if it looks like any kind of tick that would be dangerous, we’re likely to give them a little bit of medicine. The old joke is that $5 of doxycycline is better than hundreds of dollars of blood tests.

Is there more information available now about tick-borne diseases?

There’s a lot more data coming down the pipe, even John Hopkins is publishing on the persistence of Lyme disease; Stanford University published something on how taking Claritan seems to help fighting Lyme disease in the body. So compared to a few years ago we’ve got a lot more literature. The University of New Haven, in Connecticut, published data on the herbal treatment of Lyme disease, with really good success. The University of Virginia is publishing on the meat allergy—so there’s a lot of information. But then again, one tick could have one infection or could have three or four infections, and then it comes to the host—Is it a kid who’s strong? Is it someone who has had cancer? There’s almost an unlimited number of variables.

Mr. Simons will be joined by many other medical professionals at Bay Street Theater at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 22, for a free public awareness event on tick-borne diseases. For more information call (631) 726-0452.

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