It seemed like every one of the 75 people who came to the Peconic recreation center Wednesday had a story to tell of how tick-borne illnesses were misdiagnosed or caused horrible, long-lasting medical problems years after they, or someone close to them, had been bitten.
"My son was bitten three years ago, when he was 2," said Jen Brown, of North Haven. "I called my doctor immediately. He said it was the flu."
She said that within months her son had heart palpitations and later suffered from Bell's palsy. Now, after seeing eight doctors, his health is too fragile to get regular antibiotic treatments, Brown added. "He got it in a sunny, grassy area," she said. "Not in the woods."
Lyme disease causes a telltale bull's-eye rash, plus fatigue, chills, fever and joint pain. It is treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated, or if treatments don't work, it can lead to arthritis, loss of coordination, memory loss and temporary facial paralysis.
The crowd was divided about how to deal with the problem. Some wanted local clinics across the East End where people bitten by ticks could be taken in for testing. Others said they did not trust doctors or clinics to make a proper diagnosis, noting that tests for Lyme can sometimes fail to detect the disease or that they show the disease is present when it isn't.
The only suggestion everyone liked -- the crowd applauded -- was when one man said hunters should kill every deer on Long Island. He suggested that a surcharge be added to auto insurance policies to pay for it.
It is unlikely all the deer on Long Island -- a few years ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimated there were about 6,000 -- could ever be killed, because herds would grow rapidly when there is little competition for food, among other reasons.
Not only that, but deer do not transmit the disease. They carry the ticks that carry Lyme, which is also spread by other animals, particularly white-footed mice.
For the past five years, Shelter Island has experimented with a four-poster pesticide applicator, which lures deer with feed corn and has rollers to rub insecticide on their necks when they eat. Field tests have shown the machines dramatically reduced the number of Lyme-infected ticks.