FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 23, 2012
SCHUMER: MILD WINTER COULD MAKE 2012 TICK SEASON MUCH WORSE THAN USUAL, PUTTING MORE UPSTATE NYERS AT RISK OF LYME DISEASE AND OTHER TICK-BORNE ILLNESSES – PUSHES LEGISLATION TO FIGHT GROWING SCOURGE
In Light of Experts’ Warnings That 2012 Tick Season Could Be Longer & Lead To More Illnesses, Schumer Pushes Legislation That Would Boost Research, Increase Education & Awareness So Patients And Doctors Know How To Battle Back Against Tick-Borne Diseases
New Data Details Tens of Thousands of Tick-borne Illnesses In Upstate NY Over The Past Decade -- 33,995 In Hudson Valley, 216 In Finger Lakes, 150 In WNY, 614 In CNY, 877 In North Country, 17,539 In Capital Region, 856 In Southern Tier
Schumer: These Tiny Pests Can Cause Huge Problems
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on Congress to take up and pass legislation to fight back against the growing problem of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Schumer’s push comes among expert predictions both nationally and across Upstate New York that the coming summer could result in a huge spike in tick-borne illness cases due to the mild winter. The National Institutes of Health and experts at Cornell have warned that this year’s tick season could be one to two months longer than usual as more ticks survived the winter, and early reports show that tick-borne illness cases have started earlier this year. TheLyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act would help combat the growing epidemic by improving and expanding the federal government’s efforts to contain the spread of these and other tick-borne illnesses. The bill would expand research into Lyme disease, improve education, and require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to produce a report to educate doctors and other health professionals on the latest research and treatment options for the disease. These efforts will help both patients and doctors be more proactive in treating tick bites, and the potentially harmful infections that can result.
“This winter may not have dumped buckets of snow and coated the roads with ice, but it did leave behind the ticks that can cause Lyme disease and other illnesses come summer and spring,” said Schumer. “With the mild winter behind us, experts say we’re facing a summer full of ticks, Lyme disease, babesiosis and a host of other illnesses. Everyone should take the proper precautions this Memorial Day and all summer long by wearing long pants in high grass, check your children for ticks and watch for the warning signs of tick-borne illnesses. But we need to do more, and ensure that the federal government is doing its part to fight back against diseases that affect tens of thousands of Americans every year. We should pass this bill now, to empower parents, kids, and health care providers to help squash this pest and the diseases it passes along.”
Schumer today called for the passage of The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act, a bill with bipartisan support that was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). This legislation aims to coordinate increased research of emerging tick-borne diseases and develop educational programs for the public in order to increase awareness of these conditions. The legislation would also educate physicians on emerging tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease and babesiosis, and establish treatment plans in those cases. The legislation would establish a reporting system to advise health professionals on treatment options, and better coordinate the expertise of local health departments with the treatment of community health centers.
Ticks are generally active year round in warmer parts of the country, but the cold New York winters often kill off most of the ticks, leading to a shorter tick season compared to more Southern states. The exceptionally warm winter in New York has led Cornell Professor Paul Curtis to predict that the season “is going to be a month or two longer,” according to theCanandaigua Messenger Post. Across the country, areas that experienced mild winters are already experiencing an increase in tick-borne illnesses, and some experts are predicting that 2012 could be the worst summer yet for Lyme disease diagnoses. According to an ABC Nightline report, treating a single case of chronic Lyme disease could cost upwards of $70,000. Given the financial strain of treating tick-borne illness, Schumer is urging Congress to quickly act on legislation that would ensure the federal government is doing its part to combat these diseases.
Schumer noted that the potential for a tick-heavy summer could exacerbate an already serious problem in Upstate New York. Over the last decade (from 2002-2011) there have been 54,247 cases of tick-borne illnesses according to the NYS Department of Health. These figures include cases of Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Human Granyloctic Anaplasmosis, and Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis. Below is how they break down across the state:
· In the Hudson Valley, there have been 33,995 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
· In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, there have been 216 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
· In Western New York, there have been 150 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
· In Central New York, there have been 614 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
· In the North Country, there have been 877 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
· In the Capital Region, there have been 17,539 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
· In the Southern Tier, there have been 856 cases of tick-borne illnesses in the last decade
Lyme disease is the most common of all the diseases in the United States transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, with approximately 20,000 cases reported each year. It most commonly occurs in the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and North-Central states. Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine and Wisconsin had the most cases.
Lyme disease, though highly curable if it is detected in its early stages, is difficult to diagnose as its symptoms are similar to the common flu. The “bull’s eye” rash that accompanies infection of the disease at the site of the tick bite often goes undetected especially on darker skin tones. Most cases can be treated with antibiotics when detected early, however, in the event the antibiotics do not work there is no real agreement among medical authorities and institutions over how the illness should be treated.
Babesiosis is a parasitic disease that is spread by the bite of certain types of ticks, which carry microscopic parasites that can infect and destroy red blood cells in humans. Many people who are infected by babesiosis do not show any symptoms, and doctors treating patients with tick bites do not commonly test for the illness. While the infection can be a severe, life-threatening disease, especially in people with other illnesses and the elderly, most people with normal immune systems respond well to treatment. Ticks carrying the most common type of babesiosis, Babesia microti, are found most often in the Northeast, New York, New Jersey and parts of the upper Midwest. Transmission usually peaks during warm months. Over the last several years, several parts of Upstate New York have seen an uptick in babesiosis cases.
The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act would aim to educate the community in order to increase awareness of tick-borne illnesses and the warning signs for such conditions, as well as educate the health community to aide in accurate diagnosis of these illnesses, especially new conditions such as babesiosis. The legislation would increase public education through the Community Based Education Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and create a physician-education program that includes the full spectrum of scientific research related to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act also directs the Secretary of HHS 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. Schumer noted that this provision would be particularly helpful in developing strategies to combat the spread of emerging illnesses like babesiosis. This would provide doctors and health care professionals with the tools necessary to better diagnose and treat these illnesses in Upstate New York and across the country community. Increasing community knowledge of the symptoms and treatment for tick-borne illnesses will allow both patients and physicians to be more proactive in the course of treatment, and vigilant against potential infections in the event of a tick bite.
Additionally, the Schumer-backed legislation would establish a Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee within the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services in order to streamline coordination with other federal agencies and private organizations addressing tick-borne illnesses. Also to further improve research and education on the diseases, the legislationrequires 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.