As health experts predict a surge in Lyme disease cases this summer, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is calling for a national strategy to combat the disease and expand federal research efforts to increase surveillance and prevention.
Today, Reed joined with leading experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC); Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health; and local health officials and researchers from the University of Rhode Island (URI) and South County Hospital to discuss what is fueling the spread of Lyme disease and the latest efforts to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
"Lyme disease is a serious health problem and infected ticks are being found in greater numbers in Rhode Island and other parts of the country. It is important for people to be aware and know what they can do to protect themselves and their families. We also want to ensure doctors and nurses have the latest tools and training they need to properly diagnose and treat patients. I am working to boost federal research and coordination to help prevent Lyme disease and strengthen surveillance of tick-borne illnesses," said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, who last year helped secure $28 million in federal funding for Lyme disease research.
Professor Thomas Mather, director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease and TickEncounter Resource Center, reports that his tick surveillance team has now completed the first round of tick sampling at all 60 of the sites monitored for the past 18 years, and he is alarmed at this year's increases. According to his research, deer tick numbers in Rhode Island are up 80 percent over 2011 levels and 142 percent above the previous 5-year average, meaning that the risk of contracting Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases is especially high, particularly in the communities of Bristol, East Greenwich, Johnston, and Tiverton.
Calling for a greater federal focus on research, education, and outreach to individuals and families, and coordination among health professionals and government agencies, Reed is a co-author of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act (S. 1381). This legislation would:
Establish a Tick-Borne Disease Advisory Committee to streamline coordination between federal agencies and private organizations addressing tick-borne illnesses.
Coordinate Increased Research and Development Around Lyme Disease: It would help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) develop more accurate and time-sensitive diagnostic tools to strengthen surveillance and reporting of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.
Increase Education: It would expand prevention of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases through community-based public education and create a physician-education program that includes the full spectrum of scientific research on the diseases.
To help raise awareness and improve prevention in Rhode Island, Reed has worked over the years to secure $1.3 million in federal appropriations to help URI researchers examine ways to cut down Lyme disease infection rates.
Tick season hasn't even peaked yet, and already the CDC reports that as of mid-May 2012, over 5,421 cases of Lyme disease have been diagnosed nationwide, compared with 4,667 at the same time last year. Of those cases, Mid-Atlantic states have already seen 3,575 cases this year, double the 1,774 reported during the same period in 2011.
The risk of Rhode Islanders contracting the disease is more than 3 times higher than the national incidence rate.
Nationally, the CDC estimates about 20,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed and reported annually in the U.S., but says the actual number of cases could be up to 10 times that amount because the disease is often undiagnosed or unreported.
To learn more about tick bite protection and prevention resources, visit: www.tickencounter.org