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Senator Says, With More Reported Lyme Infections Each Year & New Fear Of New Powassan Infected Ticks Emerging in Central New York, Feds Need To Stop Crawling While Tick-Borne Diseases Are In A Sprint To Spread

Schumer: Summer Is Now In Full Swing, Feds Must Work Faster So Cures Are Delivered & So Public—Especially Kids—Are Better Protected 

Schumer To Feds: Use New Tools To OFF! Lyme Disease

Ahead of what is projected to be one of the worst summers for tick-borne diseases in years in Central New York, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today urged, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) 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 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 pointed to the nearly 1000 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

“Lyme disease and newly emerging diseases like Powassan are in a sprint to spread this summer, but the federal response to combat this trend is moving along at a snail’s pace. We must do more, and we must do more now to protect kids and families,” said Senator Schumer. “In times like these, it is imperative that we do all that we can to halt the continued spread of these tick-borne diseases. That’s why I am urging HHS Secretary Tom Price to fully 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 persistent diseases. There is no more time to waste, and DHHS 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 tissues, and causes mild or severe symptoms, depending on the case. Lyme disease 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 Central New York, in the last 15 years the region as seen nearly 1000 Lyme disease cases, with over 80 percent of the cases occurring since 2008. Schumer said that according to the New York State Department of Health, reported Lyme Disease cases in the seven year period from 2008-2015 have increased over 500 percent when compared to the previous seven years. Schumer said these totals underscore the fact that Lyme disease has become a significant threat for Central New York as more residents are being diagnosed every year.


Cases 2000-2007

Cases 2008-2015

Cayuga County



Cortland County



Madison County



Onondaga County



Oswego County



Central New York Total




Another disease, transmitted like Lyme, is called Powassan Virus (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 immediately put on to respiratory support and IV fluids. 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. According to a 2013 study by Dupuis et al, the deer tick virus, a genetically and ecologically distinct lineage of Powassan 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 bill aims to research, identify, and treat the disease, as well as launch a national response to significantly enhance the DHHS’ ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Under the bill, 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 Martha Conan of Camillus, a member of the Empire State Lyme Disease Association and a Lyme sufferer herself. Martha, who was misdiagnosed for ten years before finally being diagnosed with Lyme disease, said, “Postings where tick-infested areas are present, enhancing Lyme education for the medical community and increasing funding from the government would greatly help those suffering from Lyme and create awareness so more individuals won’t become infected. Please remember that everyone has the potential of getting bitten by a tick. Lyme does not discriminate.”

Schumer was also joined by Dr. Quentin Wheeler, President of SUNY College Environmental Science & Forestry (ESF) and Dr. Melissa Fierke, Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the college. Dr. Fierke recently led a team of researchers looking at the density of black-legged ticks and prevalence of Lyme disease in Onondaga County. She added that “funds to educate the public about how to protect themselves from tick-borne illnesses and for research on black-legged ticks and tick-borne diseases is critical as numbers of ticks and incidence of Lyme infection are increasing across New York State and the entire Northeastern U.S. Education alone cannot prevent the transmission of Lyme disease. Developing a vaccine should be a priority to protect people working in and enjoying the outdoors.”

Schumer explained that SUNY ESF’s has been a leader in identifying ways to disrupt the transmission of Lyme disease and could help the lead the fight against tick-borne illnesses if they are equipped with additional federal resources.

President Wheeler agreed by adding: “as health threats like Lyme disease have increased, so too has ESF’s emphasis on tick research and public education. From basic natural history to innovative research into ways to disrupt the transmission of the disease, ESF faculty are focused on finding solutions. Increased funding would not only protect New York citizens, it would advance our understanding of the emergence and spread of similar diseases.”

Onondaga County Commissioner of Health Dr. Indu Gupta, who also joined Schumer, further explained that, “Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and is spread to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick. Prevention is important and everyone should take measures to decrease their chances of being bitten by a tick. Avoiding tick bites and timely antibiotic use, if indicated, after a tick bite can reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease. I welcome Senator Schumer's efforts to further develop a national response to identify, treat and ultimately prevent this disease."

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 Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Additionally, in 2013, in Westchester County, Schumer called on the CDC to immediately allocate resources towards the study, prevention, and treatment of Lyme and the emerging Powassan virus threat in the Hudson Valley. Last year, Schumer successfully pushed to pass this bill; however, its language has not yet been totally enacted.