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Senator: With More Reported Lyme Infections Each Year From Lyme-Carrying Ticks – Some Also Infected With Rare, Powassan Virus – Feds Need To Stop Crawling While Tick-Borne Diseases Are Rapidly Spreading And Putting Kids And Families At Risk

Schumer:  With Recent Death & Another Confirmed Case Of Deadly Powassan Virus, Feds Must Work Faster So Cures Are Delivered & So Public—Especially Kids—Are Better Protected

Schumer To Feds: Get Serious About Preventing More Lyme/Powassan Disease Exposures 

Standing at Albany Medical Center, and in the wake of the recently reported death and confirmed case of Powassan (POW) virus in the Capital Region, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to double-down on efforts to fully implement new laws, passed by Congress last year, that will significantly increase research, vaccine development and treatment strategies to help stamp out tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. Schumer said any delay in federal action will allow newly emerging diseases like POW which, as many in the Capital Region now know, is even deadlier than Lyme disease and has tragically claimed lives.  Schumer pointed to The Center for Disease Control data which detailed 288 cases of Lyme disease in Albany County and 8,272 across the state in 2015.

“The reality is the Feds now have the tools to begin stamping out diseases like Powassan Virus, but they’re still dragging their feet, even though more and more New Yorkers are being infected with horrible tick-borne diseases,” said Senator Schumer. “The threat of the deadlier tick-borne diseases, Powassan Virus, is very real in the Capital Region, which already took the life of one resident. So it is imperative that we do all that we can to halt the continued spread every single summer. That’s why I am urging HHS Secretary Tom Price to quickly implement the already-passed legislation within the 21st Century Cures Act, to ensure that we are making a sufficient attempt at ridding ourselves of these chronic diseases. There is no more time to waste, and HHS must step up their game.” 

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks, which can be transmitted by a bite to a human or animal host. If left untreated, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi travels through the bloodstream, manifests itself in body tissue, and causes mild or severe symptoms, depending on the case. Lyme disease often begins as a rash at the location of the tick bite. It then spreads to the nervous system and joints. Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment is crucial to recovery. With early diagnosis, Lyme disease is cured almost 100 percent of the time. The disease is most prevalent on the Upper East Coast and Midwest, especially in densely wooded areas with an aptitude for humidity.

Lyme disease is extremely prevalent in Albany County. In fact, between 2000 and 2014, there have been a total of 3,471 cases of Lyme disease in Albany County – a number which makes Albany County the eighth most infected county in the New York State and the second most infected county north of the Hudson Valley. Schumer said that, according to the New York State Department of Health, reported Lyme disease cases increased over 30 percent from 2014 to 2015.Schumer said these statistics underscore the fact that Lyme disease has become a significant threat for Albany County, as more residents are being diagnosed every year.

Another disease, transmitted by the same ticks that carry Lyme, is called POW. After the initial bite, the disease usually takes one week to one month to reveal itself. People with the disease need to be hospitalized as soon as possible and put on respiratory support and IV fluids only in severe cases. Minor or massive brain swelling may also occur. No vaccines or specific treatments currently exist for POW, however there are methods for prevention, including: staying out of wooded or bushy areas that contain high grass, the use of insect repellent/DEET, a bath or shower within two hours of being in a wooded area, and full-body tick checks for both yourself and any pet that may have travelled with you. There have been approximately 75 cases of POW in the last decade, 16 of which were in New York. POW reached the Capital Region last year when the first two cases in the region were diagnosed; one case in Albany County and one case in Warren County.  Since the beginning of 2017, there have been several cases of  POW diagnosed one of the cases was fatal. According to a 2013 study by Dupuis et al, the deer tick virus, a genetically and ecologically distinct lineage of POW virus, was identified each year from 2007 to 2012, in nymphal and adult l.scapularis collected from the Hudson Valley. 58 tick pools were positive for virus and/or RNA Infection rates were higher in adult ticks collected from areas east of the Hudson River.

Schumer explained that the passed legislation aims to continue to research methods for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of tick-borne diseases, including Lyme. In addition, the bill establishes a working group to make recommendations on existing programs and research and to prepare a report summarizing these recommendations as well as current federal research efforts related to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. Ultimately, the law aims to research, identify, and treat the disease, as well as launch a national response to significantly enhance the HHS’ ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Under this law, HHS must coordinate federal activities related to tick-borne diseases and conduct or support activities related to tick-borne diseases, including:

·       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.

Schumer made this push as the Center for Disease Control (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.

Schumer was joined by Dr. Ferdinand Venditti, Executive Vice President for System Care Delivery and Hospital General Director; Dr. Raymond Smith, Infectious Disease Physician, and Catherine Duncan Director of Public Health for Saratoga County.

Schumer has long pushed for federal funding for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme, which has seen an increase in cases across New York State. In 2015, Schumer pushed for legislation to boost the federal government’s ability to research, identify and treat the disease as well as launch a national response to significantly enhance the HHS’ ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Additionally, in 2013, Schumer called on the CDC to immediately allocate resources towards the study, prevention, and treatment of Lyme and the emerging POW virus threat in New York. Last year, Schumer successfully pushed to pass this bill; however, its language has not yet been totally enacted.