Acra, NY – Standing at the Agroforestry Resource Center, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Chris Gibson today discussed legislation to combat the growing epidemic of Lyme disease in New York and across the country. This past August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released preliminary estimates indicating that the number of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year is around 300,000, creating the need for an aggressive response on the federal level. According to the CDC, New York State had 19,543 confirmed cases of Lyme disease between 2007 and 2011. Greene County accounted for 785 of those cases and Columbia County accounted for 1,305 cases. Columbia County ranked first nationwide in proportion of Lyme disease cases per-capita, with Dutchess, Greene, Putnam and Ulster counties placing second, third, sixth and eighth, respectively.
“As the trees change colors before winter, the fall is a great time to play outside with your family,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is key that we take the necessary steps to prevent Lyme disease. We need to do more than check our kids for ticks when they come in from playing. We must substantially increase federal funding for research, educating families, treatment, and promoting prevention. This bill would develop better tools for diagnosing and reporting Lyme disease, and ensure doctors are better equipped to diagnose and treat those who become infected.”
“Joining with Senator Gillibrand today continues our focus on increasing awareness and improving diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease and other tickborne illnesses. Both our bipartisan, bicameral legislation and efforts we’re working toward in the Farm Bill have the opportunity to significantly improve research and ensure that our communities here in Upstate New York – where the incidence of Lyme is the highest – have the resources they need to combat this public health scourge,” said Congressman Gibson.
In 2009, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported in the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control stating they believed only 10-12 percent of all cases had been reported. This year the new estimates suggest that the total number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is roughly 10 times higher than the yearly reported number. And, this estimate doesn’t take into account those infected with the other devastating tick-borne illnesses. Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected black-legged ticks. Early signs of infection can commonly be mistaken for other illnesses, and may include a rash and flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. If diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. However, the severity of untreated Lyme disease can have devastating effects: if treatment is not administered in a timely fashion, victims can develop severe heart, neurological, eye, and joint problems.
The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act would:
- Establish a Tick-Borne Disease Advisory Committee: The legislation would establish the Advisory Committee through the Secretary of Health and Human Services in order to streamline coordination between other federal agencies and private organizations addressing tick-borne illnesses. The Advisory Committee would be comprised of “stakeholder constituencies,” which would include doctors and researchers.
- Coordinate Increased Research and Development Around Lyme Disease: The legislation directs the Secretary of HHS, in coordination with the Advisory Committee, to develop more accurate and time-sensitive diagnostic tools to strengthen surveillance and reporting of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, which would help determine prevalence of various illnesses.
- Increase Education: The legislation would increase public education through the Community Based Education Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and create a physician-education program that includes the full spectrum of scientific research related to Lyme and other tick-borne disease.
- Report on Lyme Disease: The legislation requires the Secretary of HHS to publish a report at the end of each advisory term evaluating published guidelines and current research available on Lyme disease, in order to best educate health professionals on the latest research and diversity of treatment options. It further requires the Secretary of HHS to submit to Congress a report on the activities carried out under this act including a copy of the most recent annual report issued by the Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee.