Helping your customers map out a plan of attack against Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses
Editor’s note: The following article first ran in the March 2016 digital issue of Vet-Advantage. For the latest digital offerings, visit www.vet-advantage.com
They’re coming. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, ticks that can carry Lyme disease are in nearly half the counties spread across 43 states. It’s a 44.7% increase in the number of counties that have recorded the presence of these ticks since a previous map was presented in 1998.
In order to be ready to handle tick-borne diseases and prevent more cases, your veterinary practice customers need to have a plan of action.
Vet-Advantage asked Mark Kimsey, DVM, senior associate director, pet marketing at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, and Madeleine Stahl, DVM, technical services marketing liaison manager, Merck Animal Health, for their insights into developing a strategy using Stop, Start, Continue as a framework.
What should veterinary practices stop doing (what’s not working)?
What can veterinary practices start doing?
What should veterinary practices continue?
1. Stop making assumptions. This can take two forms, says Kimsey. First, veterinarians may make the assumption that the pet owner is familiar with Lyme disease at all. They may have recently moved from a low-risk area like the Southwest to a high-risk area in the upper Midwest or Northeast and be unfamiliar with Lyme disease. Or clients may be new pet owners and unfamiliar with diseases that their pet could contract. “Clients come to the veterinarian for advice and the best information,” Kimsey says. “They’re looking for the veterinarian as the expert in animal health.”
Veterinarians may also be hesitant to recommend a vaccination or medical procedure because they’re not sure if the pet owner would be willing to pay for anything beyond the standard round of vaccinations or preventive products. They won’t know unless they have the conversation with the customer, Kimsey says.
Indeed, flea & tick control should no longer be considered an optional part of care for pets. “The pet owner needs to understand that flea & tick control is a medical necessity,” says Stahl.
2. Stop thinking that tick prevention is a seasonal concern, even in colder months.“Adult ticks can be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing,” says Stahl.
3. Stop using ineffective preventatives. Older ectoparasiticides are not as effective against fleas & ticks as the newer products, says Stahl.
4. Stop thinking Lyme disease is not in your area. “Tick geography is expanding each year and these ticks carry not only organisms that cause Lyme disease but also other infectious diseases,” says Stahl.
For instance, Kimsey noted the emergence of a tick presence in Florida. “A lot of ixodes ticks are down in Florida now,” he says. “Which was farther south than I thought they’d be. We know there is disease in Florida. Most of that, though, is where the dog has been to traveling to Massachusetts or a high-risk area. To see ticks in Florida means you’ll have primary cases of Lyme disease at some time in the future.”
1. Start combining aggressive year-round tick prevention with vaccination against Lyme disease. “Dogs that have the benefit of consistent preventative measures have the best chance of avoiding disease,” says Stahl.
2. Start doing more client education. Including better risk assessments is key, says Kimsey. “Sometimes when you look at a dog in a low risk area, you could think that the dog is not going to get exposed. But say they live in South Carolina – does the dog travel? Do they go north at all with the dog? If the dog has been in any of the endemic areas, then they are at risk for Lyme disease. If 95 percent of dogs are outside, we need to get better asking where they are and figure out the exposure level to decide whether to make the recommendation to vaccinate. You won’t know that until you do a risk assessment.”
Clients should also be educated on the human health angle. Pets can play a role as sentinels for Lyme disease, says Stahl.
3. Start prescribing flea & tick products that are easy to dose and decrease the opportunity to miss a dose or give a dose late, thereby, enhancing compliance, says Stahl. Preferably, practices should be prescribing enough flea & tick product to last the full year.
4. Start using the Companion Animal Parasite (CAPC) website. The CAPC website (www.capcvet.org) is a resource targeted for veterinary practices, says Kimsey. “Their mapping system shows where positive tests have been in the last 12 to 18 months. You can drill right down to the county where you live.”
It’s not exact information. The data is provided from results compiled by Antech and IDEXX, either from their central labs or practice management software, so the CAPC website doesn’t capture all of the in-clinic tests in the area that may turn out positive. Still, “it’s a good indicator of relative risk in a county compared to other counties and states around you,” says Kimsey.
5. Start using negative Lyme diagnostic test results as a celebration with the pet owner. Veterinary practices can use this as an opportunity to really encourage their clients, says Stahl. “Congratulations! You’ve done a superb job preventing Lyme disease!” The next step is to reinforce the importance of year-round tick prevention combined with vaccination.
1. Continue to stress screenings and prevention of tick-borne diseases.
Veterinary practices should screen every dog every year for tick-borne (and heartworm) disease, Stahl recommends. “We know that Brakke and GFK market data substantiate that clients do not use preventative medications every month as directed.”
Veterinary practices should also discuss the importance of doing tick checks after being in tick environments and how to safely remove ticks.
2. Continue to focus on how to increase compliance of flea & tick products, says Stahl.
3. Continue to rely on you the distributor rep. Distributor reps are important because they can remind their veterinary practice customers about all the products, services and resources that are available, says Kimsey. “You can point out the testing available, the vaccines available, the tools the veterinary practice uses, etc. Distributor reps can help by communicating to veterinary practices when special emphasis for Lyme disease related products is going on, such as special promotional offerings that the manufacturer is having. You can help clinics stay profitable.”