Time is ticking for the federal government to act on Lyme disease, Sen. Chuck Schumer warned Sunday.
As a new threat emerges, the Senate minority leader called on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to more aggressively combat the disease with tick season approaching.
“Every day I meet someone who has Lyme disease or knows someone in their family who has it. It’s spreading like wildfire in Long Island and New York,” Schumer said. “And it’s frustrating because we knew this was happening and put a program with funding in place.”
Lyme disease cases have increased in the United States, from slightly more than 10,000 in 1995 to about 28,000 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which notes that only a fraction of cases are reported. In New York City, 2015 brought a record number of cases in both Brooklyn and Staten Island, with 331 and 121 cases reported, respectively.
Nassau County saw 44 reported cases, while Suffolk experienced 256.
Schumer and other experts credit the increase to a growing deer population and charged the federal government with failing to fully implement the 21st Century Cures Act, passed late last year, which in part would help “rid” the country of the disease.
Expediency is critical, as a potentially fatal tick-borne illness known as the Powassan Virus has become more prevalent, according to Schumer. Approximately 75 cases of the Powassan Virus were reported in the past decade, 16 of which occurred in New York State, according to Schumer’s office. There are currently no vaccines or proven treatments for the Powassan Virus.
Under the 21st Century Cures Act, the federal government must prioritize research, development of vaccines and treatment strategies for such tick-borne diseases, which are increasing in number and expanding in geographic range, according to the CDC. Schumer said the law’s resources could help HHS at least launch awareness campaigns in the short-term.
Lyme disease can go unnoticed because of its common symptoms early-on: fatigue, muscle or joint pain, headaches, fevers or chills. But there are some telltale signs, like the “bulls-eye” rash that appears at the site of the tick bite within three to 30 days, according to the CDC.
“We need education,” said Schumer, speaking as someone who has had Lyme disease. “Many, many people don’t know and it’s misdiagnosed … the education could certainly have an impact and save lives and we could do that right away.”
HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.