Talking Lyme disease with Linda Giampa of Bay Area Lyme Foundation

by Linda Hubbard on July 6, 2015

Two misconceptions about Lyme disease were cleared up within minutes of sitting down with Linda Giampa, Executive Director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, headquartered in Portola Valley.

First, in California, tick season — and by association Lyme disease — is year-round, unlike the Northeast where it is seasonal (May to September).

Second, it’s not deer ticks that cause Lyme Disease in this area but rather ticks carried by varmints (squirrels, mice, rats, other small mammals).

The Bay Area Lyme Foundation is a relatively new non-profit whose mission is threefold: improved diagnostics and therapies as well as finding a cure. Linda, whose background is in high tech, has been at the helm for the past 18 months.  “After being involved in large companies as well as high tech startups, I felt a need to give back and use what I’d learned in business to the non-profit sector.” she said.

All of the Foundation’s administrative costs are covered by the Laurel Foundation located in Portola Valley. That means that 100% of donations go to research into the organization’s three mission areas.

Our discussion with Linda shed light on some other aspects of Lyme disease:

– A tick doesn’t need to be attached for long; a person can contract Lyme from a tick bite. However, the longer the tick is latched on, the higher the risk of the Lyme bacteria being transferred.

– Lyme can be present even in the absence of a bulls-eye rash; a rash is present in only 65% of people.

– Pets bring ticks into the home, but a typical dog tick doesn’t carry Lyme disease. It’s the Western black-legged tick that is the Lyme carrier; they are typically very small, sometimes the size of a poppy seed.

Linda explained that current diagnostics are the flip of a coin. “There are false positives and false negatives. Currently, a diagnosis is a combination of testing the tick at a lab [there is one in Palo Alto] and a clinical diagnosis by a doctor.” (The Foundation has a list of doctors who specialize in Lyme available by request.)

“The earlier you get diagnosed the more probable you will receive an accurate therapy,” she said. “The issue with misdiagnosis is that people go for years without treatment and develop chronic Lyme symptoms.

“The bacteria for Lyme disease [Borrelia burgdorferi ] has been found in all counties in California. Currently 8-15% of ticks carry the bacteria. That’s a relatively low rate.

“What we want to do is arm people with the knowledge that they know when to seek medical help.”

In closing, Linda reminded us that summer camp season is in full swing. The Foundation has information about what parents can do to prevent Lyme before sending their children off to camp.

One Comment

Phyllis Mervine July 13, 2015 at 1:07 am

Thank you for spreading awareness about Lyme disease in California. It is not as low risk as many people believe. A study by UC Berkeley entomologist Robert Lane in a rural subdivision in Mendocino County found more than one third of the residents had definite or probable Lyme. Many had been diagnosed with other diseases like fibromyalgia and arthritis. Lane concluded that the risk was comparable to highly endemic areas in the Northeast.

A Bay Area mother told me this story. Her child’s school was planning an overnight field trip at a special camp. She had had Lyme herself and decided her son was not going unless she checked the camp for ticks first. Camp officials agreed, and one accompanied her as she swept around the tent area with a piece of white flannel. They were horrified to see many tiny nymphal ticks all over the fabric.

To my knowledge, few–if any–camps do anything to educate parents about the risk of Lyme disease. It should be a liability concern. We want people to enjoy the outdoors, but safely!

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