James Madison University

Physician Assistant Graduate Student Takes on Lyme Corps

By: Lori News
Posted: January 20, 2015

PHOTO: CapstackHikers, gardeners, and others who spend time outdoors may be familiar with the potential risks for tick bites. But, what is sometimes overlooked is that those bites can lead to Lyme disease- an infection characterized first by rash, headache, fever and chills and can later lead to possible arthritis and neurological disorders caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium and transmitted by ticks.

Courtney Capstack, a third year Physician Assistant student at JMU, spent this past spring participating in a specialized training program on Lyme disease called “Lyme Corps.” The goal of the program is to raise awareness and promote prevention of Lyme disease.

Lyme Corps is a program developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (DVBD) as a “train-the-trainers approach to Lyme disease prevention and education.” According to the CDC, it is estimated that 300,000 infections happen annually, while only 30,000 cases are reported to the CDC each year.

The DVBD seeks new ways of educating the public and health care providers about Lyme disease because inaccurate information about the disease is widespread and recent surveys have shown that methods used by healthcare providers are sometimes inconsistent with current guidelines and diagnoses.

This is the second year that the Lyme Corps has been educating the public about Lyme disease. This year the program chose to focus on Virginia because “Lyme disease is emerging and expanding in this state,” according to the Director of Lyme Corps, Dr. Christina Nelson.

“A variety of schools in the area enabled us to recruit medical students, [physician assistant] students, and public health students,” Nelson adds. “Plus we have a good working relationship with the state and local health departments in the area which allows for effective collaborations.”

Capstack was the only JMU student on the team, while the remaining seven students were from the University of Virginia. The program consists of a two-day course on Lyme disease, hearing lectures from specialists and participating in workshops to learn about the disease.

After the two-day course, participants are assigned various activities to help spread information about the disease. The students set up educational booths at farmers markets, blogged, and visited different summer camps to educate campers and counselors about the disease.

Some also gave presentations to their respective clinical preceptors and other medical providers in their rotation sites.

One of Capstack’s clinical rotation sites was a medical practice in southeastern Kentucky. She gave a presentation to all of the medical providers at the practice.

“It was really interesting to get their perspective on the disease because it’s not very prevalent in Kentucky and none of the providers at that practice have seen Lyme disease yet,” Capstack said. “I also talked to and reassured a few patients who came into the office who had a tick on them and were worried about getting Lyme disease.”

During the program Capstack sent pamphlets and informational material to the American Horticultural Society headquarters in Alexandria, VA and wrote an article in the Virginia Master Gardener Association newsletter in August. Because she reached a wide variety of gardeners and medical providers, she was awarded the Lyme Corps Champion Award for displaying exemplary service in tick-borne disease education and prevention.

“Courtney was chosen for this award because she was very proactive and creative with her outreach efforts and did an excellent job educating others about Lyme disease prevention,” Nelson said.



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