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Dinniman Discusses Efforts to Combat the Rise of Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases
On May 19, 2017
HARRISBURG (May 19, 2017) – Pennsylvania continues to lead the nation in Lyme disease and that number is expected to rise, state Senator Andy Dinniman recently told a group of Lyme patients and advocates during a rally outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol in recognition of Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Awareness Month.
“Several factors appear to be aligning to make this a very bad year for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in Pennsylvania and throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions,” Dinniman said. “That is all the more reason why we must act and do what we can to increase preventive measures and expand treatment options.”
Dinniman called on the legislature to fund the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Health Department’s Task Force on Lyme and Related Tick-Borne Diseases. The report, established under Act 83 of 2014, marks the first-ever comprehensive report on Lyme disease in Pennsylvania. It outlines a series of measures to combat, prevent and treat the growing Lyme and tick-borne disease epidemic in Pennsylvania, including establishing education programs in schools, increasing public awareness through information campaigns in high-risk areas, earmarking funds for research, working with healthcare providers to increase the availability of testing and more.
Dinniman, who co-sponsored Act 83, said he continues to work with groups like the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania to secure state funding to implement some of the recommendations on the local and countywide levels.
“A lot of work went into this report and we are committed to using it to steer action and positive change in preventing and effectively treating Lyme and other tick-borne diseases,” Dinniman said. “I am confident that there are viable and feasible steps we can take locally and regionally to combat Lyme, better protect our residents, and enhance recovery options for patients.”
In addition, Dinniman is a strong supporter and co-sponsor of Senate Bill 100, which requires health insurers to cover Lyme disease or related tick-borne disease treatment options, including long-term antibiotics, as documented and diagnosed by health care professionals. The bill also provides that health care professionals have the right to diagnose and prescribe antibiotic therapy for a duration they deem appropriate for the patient upon making a clinical diagnosis of Lyme disease or related tick-borne disease.
That bill is currently in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and Dinniman said he is committed to working with its prime sponsor, state Senator Stewart Greenleaf, to see it passed.
“Multiple states, including our neighbors in New York and New Jersey, have enacted laws, or have legislation pending to require insurance coverage for longer-term antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease,” Dinniman said. “And I’ve personally heard from countless individuals who fully recovered once they were properly diagnosed and got the treatment they needed.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted primarily by ticks and is caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. The early clinical diagnosis and appropriate treatment of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases can greatly reduce their risks. Left untreated, Lyme can cause a number of symptoms that can become quite severe and affect every system and organ in the body.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases such as Babesiosis, Bartonellosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis and others, pose a serious threat to the quality of life of many Pennsylvanians, with the frequency of diagnosed and reported Lyme disease cases increasing significantly in recent years.
Pennsylvania has ranked highest in the nation in confirmed cases of Lyme disease for five years running, according to the Centers for Disease Control. From 2002 to 2014, Pennsylvania reported a total of 59,478 confirmed cases of Lyme disease. In 2015, the Commonwealth reported 10,817 new cases and last year it reported 12,092 new cases. That figure is triple the amount reported in New York, which registered the nation’s second-highest total of Lyme disease with 4,002 infections last year. The CDC estimates under-reporting at a factor of 10, making new cases in Pennsylvania actually more than 120,000.
A recent Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection study found a high risk of Lyme – through the disease’s presence in the black-legged, or deer tick in all 67 counties.
Dinniman also said that during his time as first a Chester County Commissioner and now a state Senator, he has connected with numerous individuals and families who have suffered the devastating effects of chronic Lyme only to find effective treatment through alternative therapies and/or long-term antibiotics.
“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 said. “Medical and diagnostic evidence plays an important role, but the sheer number of cases out there require us to consider the stories of real Lyme patients as well.”
Dinniman’s comments came amid developments that point to Lyme and other tick-borne disease being set for a record increase this year.
First, a mild winter meant ticks began appearing as early as February. In addition, scientists say an explosion in the white-footed mice population will also likely increase the incidence and danger of Lyme. Scientists are reporting record numbers of the mice, which are the most common carriers of several tick-borne illnesses and also happen to be the primary hosts of black-legged ticks, due to a bumper crop of their key food source – acorns.
Oak trees generally produce the most acorns every four to five years during a process known as masting, according to experts. This occurred in summer 2015 leading to a surge in mice population last year and this year.
In addition, although less common than Lyme, two new tick-borne diseases that have recently been detected in Pennsylvania.
- Powassan (POW) is a rare virus that can impact the nervous system, memory, thinking and balance, according to health officials. It can cause fevers, headaches, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. According to experts, POW can even be worse than Lyme, with 10 percent of cases being fatal and about half of survivors suffering from long-term, irreversible neurological damage. However, POW cases are extremely rare with only one being reported in Pennsylvania in 2011. Nationwide, a total of 75 cases of POW were diagnosed in the last decade, according to the CDC.
- Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI) is carried by the lone star tick and can lead to fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, according to the CDC. It can also result in an allergy to red meat. STARI causes a red, expanding “bull’s-eye” lesion that develops around the site of a lone star tick bite, usually appearing within seven days of a bite and expanding to a diameter of 3 inches or more. Pennsylvania health officials do not keep statistics on STARI because the rash too closely resembles Lyme disease. But the lone star tick is among the four most common ticks in the state, which account for 90 percent of patient submissions for identification, according to the Pennsylvania State University Department of Agricultural Sciences.
Dinniman said the increase in Lyme and the appearance of new tick-borne diseases in Pennsylvania calls for the medical establishment to reexamine traditional approaches to such infections.
“We are only on the cusp of understanding the dangers and treatment of tick-borne disease and now we must work together to ensure that our lawmakers and the medical community implement policies that are effective in preventing infection and helping patients,” he said. “It appears that we need to balance and thoroughly review the variety of current and potential treatment and prevention measures that are available.”