Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) met with Chasing NJ reporter Ronica Cleary yesterday on the banks of the Delaware to discuss the impact of Lyme disease in New Jersey. Chasing NJ had also attended an event held by Smith to mark National Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
Smith, who founded and co-chaired the Lyme Disease Caucus in Congress, has introduced legislation to establish a federal Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee. The bill will promote development of new and improved diagnostic tests, boost surveillance and reporting, push clinical outcomes research and expand efforts to prevent this dreaded disease.
The segment will air in mid-August.
New Jersey is one of the most heavily impacted states in the nation. Less than 10 percent of cases are believed to be reported, according to the CDC. Smith has worked on Lyme Disease since the early 1990s when constituents asked him for assistance in obtaining medical care. As founder and chairman of the Lyme Disease Caucus in the House of Representatives, Smith introduced comprehensive legislation– H.R. 611 the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Prevention, Education, and Research Act of 2013. The bill would authorize $20 million a year for five years on new research and establish an Advisory Committee to bring real input and scrutiny to this vexing and misunderstood disease.
Under the legislation, the Advisory Committee would be tasked with enhancing communication among federal agencies, medical professionals, and patients/patient advocates and to ensure that a broad spectrum of scientific viewpoints is represented in public health policy decisions. The bill also requires that the information disseminated to the public and physicians is balanced. There has been great concern over the last several years that meritorious analyses and opinions regarding “chronic” Lyme have been withheld from doctors, patients and insurers.
At the kickoff event promoting Lyme disease awareness for the warmer months when ticks are most active, the Congressman was joined by Pat Smith (no relation to Rep. Smith), president of the national non-profit Lyme Disease Association; James Occi, MA, MS, a Research Teaching Specialist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey with 20 years of experience in microbiology and medical entomology, and expertise in tick-borne diseases; Mike Meddis, Monmouth County Health Officer, Sandy Van Sant, Wall Twp. Health Officer from the Monmouth Regional Health Commission.
The latest available data shows that in 2011, 96 percent of Lyme disease cases were reported from 13 states, including New Jersey, which was third highest.
The Lyme Disease Caucus is dedicated to educating Members of Congress and staff about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, as well as advancing initiatives that are designed to help the estimated 275,000 Americans who develop Lyme disease each year and all of those living with the disease.
Lyme is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the U.S. today. If not diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can lead to disseminated infection and can affect every system in the body, including the central nervous system. Later symptoms of Lyme disease include arthritis of weight-bearing joints; neurological problems, such as facial paralysis, encephalopathy, memory problems, weakness of the extremities; and heart symptoms, such as heart block and inflammation of the heart muscle. Lyme has been reported in every U.S. state and is becoming more prevalent.