Films, forum focus on Lyme disease awareness

By Eric Banford
The return of warm weather to the Finger Lakes Region unfortunately heralds the return of tick season. On the positive side, area practitioners are learning more about treating Lyme for those impacted by this rapidly spreading disease. And two upcoming events will help inform area residence about the illness through two films and a panel discussion.
On Wednesday, April 6, two Lyme-related films will be shown at Cinemapolis. At 5 p.m., the 2009 film “Under Our Skin” will be shown, which details the impact Lyme has had on some families and the difficulty they had in getting proper treatment. It also outlines the political controversy between the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and various Lyme organizations.
This will be followed by a 7 p.m. showing of the 2014 film “Under Our Skin 2: Emergence,” which updates the controversy surrounding Lyme while also sharing how people are overcoming the disease and detailing some hopeful developments in testing and treatment.
A sliding scale donation ($5-$10) will be accepted for the screenings, with proceeds benefiting the Ithaca Free Clinic and local Lyme support effort. Area Lyme groups and practitioners will be tabling and answering questions.
“We held a similar series of successful events in 2014, so many people came out that we really want to have these be regular events,” says Brooke Hansen, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College (IC) who has been studying Lyme disease. “This time we’re focusing on practitioners in our local area who are becoming Lyme literate. We really need to get our community up to speed on what is going on with Lyme disease. We still have doctors in town who say that chronic Lyme disease does not exist, yet we have hundreds of people in our community who are coping with the long-term effects of Lyme disease.”
There will then be a panel presentation and discussion on health care options for Lyme treatment on Wednesday, April 13, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at GIAC, 301 W. Court St. in downtown Ithaca. The panel will include Ithaca practitioners Dr. Donna Pierre, Dr. Deanna Berman, acupuncturist Anthony Fazio and herbalist Becca Harber, as well as Dr. Mary Coan of Clifton Springs. The event is free, food will be served and childcare will be available on site.
Pierre is fairly new to Ithaca, moving here from Watkins Glen in 2014. She’s a board-certified family doctor whose current work focuses on urgent care, and she has a part-time practice helping patients who have Lyme. Her approach to healing involves Low Dose Immunotherapy (LDI), which she says is very successful and much less toxic than antibiotics.
“LDI is a way of retraining the immune system, because symptoms tend to be caused by immune system dysfunction, which is causing most of the problems in Lyme,” she says. “Lyme has been with us for a long time, and many people who are exposed to Lyme are not sick. So what’s the difference with people who are sick? A lot of it has to do with immune system dysfunction.”
LDI involves finding the correct dosage of an antigen to help the patient’s immune system monitor the Lyme infection (spirochetes) and keep it from doing damage to the system, according to Pierre. “This helps the immune system recognize the spirochetes as something that they want to keep dormant, but it doesn’t have to go crazy and cause a lot of symptoms,” she adds.
Hansen has two students who are working on different aspects of Lyme disease to help understand it better. One of the students, Adam Monzella, went undiagnosed with Lyme for many years, suffering debilitating symptoms and visiting various doctors, but not knowing what he had until viewing “Under Our Skin” prompted him to get tested.
“He’s now working with IC’s Hammond Health Center to have them be more proactive at testing students, since IC has so many students from the Northeast, which is the central zone for the Lyme epidemic,” Hansen says.
Hansen is concerned by the lack of information available to students, and the lack of educational signs on campus. “Students frequently spend their time walking through the woods on IC’s natural lands, and not thinking about routine checks for ticks,” she says. “We don’t want to make people paranoid, but it should be part of their every day routine to stay safe.”
At the May 2015 Lyme Conference at Binghamton University, one presentation noted that ticks are most prevalent near built environments, rather than out in the woods. When dragging for ticks, they were most often found near campus trails and dorms, putting unsuspecting walkers at risk.
“I just want to raise awareness,” Hansen says. “A lot of people think because they haven’t been out in the woods that they can’t get Lyme disease, which is absolutely not true.”
The films and panel discussion are sponsored by the Ithaca Health Alliance, Ithaca Area Lyme Support Group and Ithaca College. More information on the films can be found at