By Mara Certic
A report issued last week by the Senate Majority Coalition Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases calls for the formation of a State Department of Health action plan in order to reduce the number of infections and increase detection, diagnosis and treatment. The task force was brought together in October to address the rising concerns about the spread of tick-borne diseases in New York State and included Senator Ken LaValle among its members.
According to the Department of Health, more than 95,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in the state since 1986.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease, but diagnoses of babesiosis and anaplasmosis have increased in recent years as well, the task force found. Suffolk County has the third highest number of cases reported each year in the state.
“We have had nine deaths from Lyme disease or tick-borne diseases [in New York State],” Senator LaValle said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We think that this needs to be taken more seriously.”
The report states that one of the main concerns when it comes to controlling the tick-borne diseases is that few of the cases are reported. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, only about 10 percent of cases of Lyme disease are actually reported.
The task force’s report suggested several educational initiatives the state could undertake that would encourage New Yorkers to report Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. A County Learning Collaborative has been suggested to encourage conversations of between counties that have long been troubled by ticks and those that have only recently seen outbreaks of these diseases.
The task force also suggested a general statewide educational campaign, as well as improving continuing medical and veterinary education about the topic.
This year, for the first time, the state Senate has secured funding in the state budget exclusively for managing tick-borne diseases. “For the first time, we’ve got some money and we’re going to be a pilot for the state with the 4-poster program,” Senator LaValle said. The 4-Poster systems work by attracting deer with food, and then applying the insecticide permethrin to the animals when they approach to feed.
Installation of these devices on Shelter Island and in North Haven will take place “A.s.a.p.,” the senator said. “We believe it works. We want to get information that we can share statewide.”
North Haven is included because “it’s small enough so we think we can do a good job in putting them there,” said Senator LaValle.
A re-evaluation of diagnostic testing has also been recommended, as has a review of medical insurance to minimize coverage limitations regarding tick-borne diseases.
The Senate has also taken legislative steps to deal with this problem; one piece of legislation, which has passed in both houses, ensures that no physician will be brought up on charges of misconduct based upon their recommendation of a treatment that is not universally accepted by the medical community.
“There have been some physicians that have used long-term antibiotic to treat Lyme disease,” explained Senator LaValle. “This was not a mainstream use and so some physicians were brought up before the health committees for medical misconduct.”
Senator LaValle said the Senate passed a resolution on Friday, June 20, calling on the federal government to increase funding for Lyme and tick-borne diseases. “Our resolution talks about two things,” he said. “Number one: we need the CDC to treat this as a more serious illness. Number two: we could use some help with funding.”