WEST CHESTER (October 14) – State Senator Andy Dinniman today joined fellow legislators and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy in releasing a landmark report on Lyme disease in Pennsylvania designed to guide the Commonwealth’s strategy in addressing the growing epidemic of tick-borne disease.

850-Dinniman Lyme Disease NC 10-14-15_9229_3The report was produced by the Pennsylvania Health Department’s Task Force on Lyme  and Related Tick-Borne Disease, established by Act 83 of 2014. It marks the first-ever comprehensive report on Lyme disease in Pennsylvania.

“The task force has done a tremendous job and this is just the first stage,” Dinniman, who served as a co-sponsor of Act 83, said. “But the next stage is even more important and that is the discussion and implementation of its recommendations. We are committed to ensuring that this report does not sit idly on a shelf and that it helps steer legislative action and positive change in preventing and treating Lyme disease.”

Dinniman also announced that Chester County will be the first in the Commonwealth to hold a public forum and discussion on the report with a visit from Secretary Murphy and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine on November 12. Details of the event are forthcoming.

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“Southeastern Pennsylvania and Chester County in particular are ground zero for Lyme disease in the nation,” Dinniman said. “We must explore better methods of prevention, while also keeping an open mind in looking a different ways to treat chronic or long term Lyme disease.”

The most recent statewide data show the reported cases of Lyme disease on the rise in most counties in the state and the presence of the Lyme disease-carrying black-legged, or deer, tick in all 67 counties. For the past five years Pennsylvania has led the nation in reported Lyme disease cases.

850-Dinniman Lyme Disease NC 10-14-15_9205_3Dinniman said that his interactions with numerous individuals and families who have suffered the devastating effects of chronic Lyme only to find effective treatment in long-term antibiotics demonstrates the need for the medical establishment to reexamine traditional approaches to Lyme.

One of those individuals was Debra Bach of Hamburg, whose husband Dr. Gregory Bach was a member of the task force. More than two decades ago, Debra lost her hearing and sight to a debilitating mystery illness. Once her husband, a board certified physician, diagnosed her with Lyme and treated her with long-term antibiotic therapy, her health rapidly recovered.

“I’ve heard from countless individuals who fully recovered once they were property diagnosed and got the treatment they needed,” Dinniman said. “Medical and diagnostic evidence plays an important role, but so does anecdote evidence and we must take the stories of real Lyme patients into account as well based on the sheer number of cases out there.”

“It appears that we need to balance and thoroughly review the variety of current and potential treatment and diagnostic options for Lyme that are available,” he added.

The task force was charged with assessing the research data and making recommendations in the areas of public awareness, disease prevention, and environmental surveillance. The 20 task force members represent an array of stakeholders from state agencies and professionals in various health and research fields, as well as patient groups.

The report outlines a series of recommendations on prevention, education and surveillance to combat Lyme disease in Pennsylvania. They include the following:

  • Developing programs for schools in high-risk areas to educate students, parents and families on preventive methods to reduce the risk of tick exposure.
  • Directing federal, state and local park staff and properties to communicate risk awareness of Lyme disease and other methods to reduce the risk of tick exposure.
  • Publishing a standard informational brochure that physicians can provide patients when they are evaluated for Lyme.
  • Implementing a comprehensive multimedia public awareness campaign targeting the general public and at-risk population to raise awareness of tick-borne disease.
  • Establishing an educational program for health care providers to include prevention of tick bites and prevention of disease progression from acute to later stages.
  • Improving surveillance and data collection of tick-borne diseases under Pennsylvania’s notifiable disease list.
  • Raising the public, medical and scientific community’s awareness of tick populations and the diseases they carry through a board and comprehensive statewide environmental survey.
  • Earmarking state budget appropriations to conduct research and share information for tick distribution, control and infectivity rates.
  • Supporting funding for observational epidemiologic studies to provide more detailed data on the burden and cost of tick-borne diseases in Pennsylvania.
  • Updating and enhancing the availability of a broad array of innovative and more accurate diagnostic tests for tick-borne disease on an annual basis.
  • Increasing health care provider and veterinary participation in tick-borne disease surveillance and data collection by using technology to enable electronic reporting and annual advisories by region.
  • Utilizing a central and publicly accessible website to disseminate tick-borne disease data at the county and statewide level.
  • Improving the identification of potential co-infections with other tick-borne pathogens and risk factors by including questions in investigations used by local health departments.
  • Convening an independent advisory board on Lyme to report to the Secretary of Health.
  • Obtaining an independent implementation cost analysis of the recommendations through the Legislative Budget and Finance Office.
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