Coast Star Article:'Feds to target Lyme disease with $150M legislation''Diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive effort hailed in NJ by co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Smith'
BY SANNE YOUNG THE COAST STAR
After decades of effort, a new national strategy for fighting Lyme disease finally has been signed into law.
“After 21 years, I’m ecstatic. We finally got it,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who joined fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, in sponsoring the measure to fight tick-borne diseases.
Lawmakers, instead of letting the bill go through the usual committee process, did a workaround, Rep. Smith said. The bill was attached to a massive end-of-year spending package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on Friday, Dec. 20.
Mr. Smith, who represents New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District, said the legislation authorizes $150 million in federal funding over five years for the federal Centers of Excellence to create a “new whole-of-government national strategy to combat Lyme,” as well as for local Lyme initiatives, he said. “The new law will open doors to innovative therapies, treatments, better diagnosis and more accurate information for doctors and their patients with Lyme.”
New Jersey is a hot spot for the disease, the second highest state in the nation in the number of cases reported, 40,000 in 2018, said Wall Township resident Patricia V. Smith [no relation to the congressman], president of the National Lyme Disease Association.
“We’re certainly thrilled to see more distribution of funds for tick-borne diseases and for providing development of a national strategy,” said Ms. Smith, who first began a campaign for Lyme awareness in the 1980s when a number of Wall school teachers and students contracted the disease.
The legislation, formerly the TICK Act, now is named for Sen. Kay Hagan [D-NC] who died in October of encephalitis, caused by the tick-borne Powassan virus.
Rep. Smith said the new national strategy will be key.
“Now, you will have every agency working on the same page to combat the explosion of this terrible disease,” he said, from the federal Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. He noted that soldiers from around the nation have contracted Lyme while bivouacking at Fort Dix.
Congress passes long-awaited Lyme-disease legislation
Patricia V. Smith, president of the National Lyme Disease Association, and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, [no relation] listen during a Lyme disease forum held at the Wall Township Municipal Complex on May 29. (FILE PHOTO THE COAST STAR)
“I’ve introduced over a dozen bills in Congress beginning with the Lyme Disease Initiative Act of 1998 to get here,” Rep. Smith said. “This marks a major victory for hundreds of thousands — especially and including children — who suffer from this horrific disease.”
He said it took decades to get the medical profession to recognize the seriousness of Lyme disease. “In the past, it was called hard to catch and easy to cure. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Lyme doctors were ostracized. That’s all gone. Now they are recognizing it’s one of the most devastating diseases.”
Ms. Smith said the legislation now has to go through the 2020 appropriation process, and she is concerned over some language changes that were made, striking the word “Lyme,” and referring to a wider variety “vector-borne” diseases, as the bill moved from the House through the Senate.
“Unfortunately, when it came out of the Senate it was changed so that we don’t know how much money Lyme will get. But I have been given some assurances from the federal agencies that a good portion will go toward Lyme,” she said.
“I would like to thank Congressman Smith and Sen. Collins and other co-sponsors for getting this passed,” she added. Rep. Smith said he is confident most of the funding will go toward Lyme, which accounts for 80 percent of tick-borne diseases in the nation.
Ms. Smith said she is glad a portion of the funding will be directed through the state health department toward local county initiatives for fighting Lyme, including correctly identifying local cases and responding to outbreaks. In 2018, she noted, Monmouth County had the highest number of cases, 5,060, reported in the state.
TOWN HALL TALK
On Dec. 18, Ms. Smith gave a presentation to residents at town hall on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
One bite from one deer tick can transmit several devastating diseases, including Lyme, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ms. Smith said.
Laboratory tests for Lyme still are only about 50 percent accurate, with many infected patients testing negative, she said. “It’s frequently misdiagnosed, with only 50 percent getting a rash,” she said.
Patients often get chronic diseases from Lyme because resistor cells remain after traditional treatments. As for proper tick removal, she said: “Don’t put anything on a tick. Don’t burn it. Don’t touch it. Don’t squeeze it. Don’t twist it. If you annoy that tick, any disease it has can be injected into you, so you are increasing your risk of infection. What should you do? “Pull it straight out. Clean the area with antiseptic afterward,” and save the tick for identification, she said.
CATS, DOGS, MOOSE INFECTED
“This problem is extremely important across our country,” she said, noting that Lyme disease can be found in 80 countries worldwide, and even has been found in penguins in Antarctica.
Of 189,000 pet dogs tested in New Jersey last year, one out of 11 tested positive for Lyme, which can destroy their kidneys and kill them, Ms. Smith said.
Cats also can be infected, she said, and cowboys at the nation’s southern border are working to combat ticks and Lyme disease in cattle and horses, she said. In addition, she said, a study in New England has found that the moose population is being decimated by ticks.
Sanne Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732- 223-0076 Ext 17.
This article ran on page one of the Dec. 26, 2019 print edition of he Coast Star and the original story can be found online at: