SALINA — Congress in 2016 approved laws that will “significantly” increase research, vaccine development, and treatment strategies to help stamp out tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.), during a Syracuse–area stop on July 7, urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “fully implement” the new laws.
The measures Schumer is referring to are part of the “21st Century Cures Act.”
“The good news is the federal government passed a law in December that would provide a good deal of money to fight Lyme disease, the find a cure, to find better treatment, to educate people so they don’t get it. The bad news is … [HHS] isn’t implementing that law,” said Schumer.
The senator discussed the topic at Onondaga Lake Park “ahead of what is projected to be one of the worst summers for tick-borne diseases in years in Central New York,” his office said.
Schumer made this push as the Atlanta, Georgia–based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other tick-borne disease experts predict that this summer could be “one of the worst when it comes to the population of ticks.”
Any delay in federal action will allow newly emerging disease like Powassan, which is “even deadlier” than Lyme disease, to impact “already vulnerable” areas like Syracuse, Oswego and the rest of Central New York, Schumer noted.
In his remarks, Schumer then posed the question ... Why are they waiting?
“No good reason. Just bureaucracy. Maybe they don’t want to spend the money. Maybe they don’t understand … the new secretary of health and human services, Dr. Price … how serious this illness is, but he’s a doctor. He should understand,” said Schumer.
Local data, Schumer story
The Democrat pointed to the nearly 1,000 reported Lyme disease cases over the past 15 years in Central New York, more that 80 percent of which occurred since 2008, as a clear indication that the region is in “dire need” of federal assistance and guidance.
Schumer cites data from the New York State Department of Health that reported Lyme disease cases in the seven-year period from 2008-2015 have increased more than 500 percent when compared to the previous seven years.
The figures “underscore” that Lyme disease has become a “significant threat” for Central New York as more residents are being diagnosed every year, Schumer’s office said.
“It used to be that in Central New York, we didn’t worry about Lyme disease, we didn’t have much of it here. But the ticks and their illnesses, through deer, have spread northward and now the problem is serious in Central New York,” said Schumer.
Schumer recounted a time when he contracted Lyme disease. He was walking in the Hudson Valley “about 10 years ago” and was wearing long pants.
“When I came back to my house, I saw a little black tick on my leg, on my calf. I knew what to do,” he said.
He took the tick and placed it in a plastic bag. The next morning he noticed a bull’s eye-type rash on his leg and he went to the doctor. The physician determined that Schumer had contracted Lyme disease and prescribed medication.
“I was on a relatively common antibiotic called doxycycline … I took it for 10 days. I was cured … but only because I knew. Most people don’t know,” said Schumer.
About Lyme disease
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and is spread to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick, Dr. Indu Gupta, Onondaga County Commissioner of Health, said in her remarks at Onondaga Lake Park.
“Early detection and treatment is the key in addressing Lyme disease,” Gupta added.
Lyme disease begins as a rash at the location of the tick bite. It then spreads to the nervous system and joints.
With early diagnosis, Lyme disease is cured almost 100 percent of the time, Schumer’s office said.
“The good news … Lyme disease is curable in its early stages. The bad news … once you get past the stage where you can cure it, it’s a very, very serious and heartbreaking disease,” Schumer noted in his remarks.
If left untreated, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi travels through the bloodstream, manifests itself in body tissues, and causes mild or severe symptoms, depending on the case.
The disease is most prevalent on the Upper East Coast and Midwest, “especially in densely wooded areas with an aptitude for humidity.”
Under the act, HHS must coordinate federal activities related to tick-borne diseases and conduct or support activities related to tick-borne diseases.
The activities include surveillance; research on strategies for the control of ticks; exploring causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of tick-borne diseases; epidemiological research; and determining the gaps in existing research.