Author: Cynthia E. Field
With self-effacing good humor, Barbara Buchan, Ed.D., calls herself "an inept gardener." Prescient might be a better adjective. Seven years ago Dr. Buchan began to notice changes in weather patterns around her Lincoln, Massachusetts, home. She quickly realized that the abundance of acorns and chipmunks in her yard probably had something to do with the deer ticks crawling up her front door.
"Occasionally [I would even find] a tick in the palm of my hand after I had turned the doorknob," Buchan remembered.
Other residents, including Nancy Fleming, whose husband and son had Lyme Disease, have observed an increase in the deer population in Lincoln. "We had four deer in our yard last week, which I've never seen before in our 22 years in this house," Fleming said recently.As early as 2006 Barbara Buchan became increasingly aware of "neighbors, adults and children, plagued with mysterious illnesses, some needing hospitalization, others faced with the loss of use of a limb [or issues with] speech. Word spread that these illnesses might be caused by ticks," she recalled.
Other members of the Lincoln Garden Club began to share similar concerns, and through the collective efforts of residents like Buchan and Assistant Town Manager Anita Scheipers, Lincoln became the first town in Massachusetts, perhaps nationwide, to track the incidence of Lyme Disease within its borders.
How do they do it? Simple. Members of the town's Tick Task Force carry a paper map to public meetings where they encourage residents who have been diagnosed with one or more tick-borne diseases to place a push pin on the map, approximating the location of their home.
"We get a lot of feedback about [the map], said Scheipers. "People know neighbors who have had Lyme and will encourage them to also post a pin," she explained.
It didn't take long for a tip about Lincoln's push-pin paper map to find its way into the notebook of WBUR CommonHealth blog journalist Carey Goldberg who, with co-host Rachel Zimmerman, was launching a series of articles about Lyme Disease in June 2012. One article profiled several Lincoln residents.
"We contacted the awesome HealthMap folks at [Boston] Children's [Hospital] - in particular John Brownstein and Sue Aman - and they readily agreed to put together a version of HealthMap that would include just Lincoln and Lyme [Disease]," Goldberg said.
"Anita in Lincoln was instantly enthusiastic about it and helped hugely by spreading the word, including on the town web site," Goldberg added.
Dozens of Lincoln residents have already added their virtual push pin to the Lincoln Lyme Map, often adding comments like this one: "3 out of 4 in our house + the dogs."
One CommonHealth feedbacker wrote, "THIS is exactly what we need! Not just in Lincoln, but in every town. I live in Amherst, NH. How do we do this in our town? Your idea is brilliant!"
Meanwhile, as others follow Lincoln's example, the Massachusetts town has taken its fight against tick diseases one step further by becoming a TickEncounter Prevention Partner (TEPP).
Lincoln Assistant Town Manager Anita Scheipers said the decision to become a TickEncounter Prevention Partner was an easy one. "People have been stopping in or calling me with questions and are very grateful that the town is taking a proactive role in helping residents deal with this serious issue," she said.