COLUMN • Capitol Perspective
By State Sen. JAMES L. SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ALBANY – May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and with the number of reported cases in New York rising each year, it is important to arm yourself and your family with the tools to avoid the disease when possible, and detect and treat when necessary.
Lyme disease is an infection, caused by bacteria, that is spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints, nervous system and/or heart. When detected early, it usually can be treated with oral antibiotics. If left untreated, it often causes serious health problems.
According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), New York State has the third highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the country, trailing only our neighbors Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While this problem has historically been concentrated on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, the state Department of Health reports that it is quickly migrating to other counties across New York.
Not all ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease; they become infected after feeding on infected animals such as mice or other small mammals. Transmission times for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases vary, and the sooner a tick is removed, the lower the risk of infection. Always check for ticks after spending time outdoors. You cannot get Lyme disease from another person or an infected animal.
Ticks can be active all months of the year when temperatures are above freezing. However, most tick encounters occur from April through November. Their preferred habitats are wooded areas and adjacent grasslands. Lawns and gardens at the edges of woods may also be home to blacklegged ticks. Ticks may feed on wild animals such as mice, deer, birds and raccoons, but domestic animals such as cats, dogs and horses can also carry the ticks closer to home.
I have worked to enact several new laws in New York State to improve our response to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. We have also taken steps to upgrade education efforts and enhance efficiency when it comes to treatment and reporting measures.
Last year several measures I co-sponsored were signed into law, including:
- Senate bill 7171, requiring the state to study the effect Lyme and tick-borne diseases have on mental health;
- Senate bill 7170, establishing an expert-based Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group to review current best practices for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of Lyme and TBDs;
- Senate bill 7242, requiring Lyme and tick-borne disease warning signs at all state-managed parks, including trail entryways and campgrounds.
Another bill that I have co-sponsored would serve as a major step forward for treatment of Lyme. The legislation would create specific protocol to notify individuals of their diagnoses related to Lyme and other TBDs. The bill would require the commissioner of health to work with health care providers to develop a standard protocol and patient notification for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and TBDs.
In discussing this issue with individuals who have contracted Lyme and doctors alike, it is clear that diagnosis and treatment plans vary greatly. We need to develop a uniform health care strategy that will increase positive outcomes so people aren’t left guessing if they are infected or if they will be left to struggle with a debilitating disease for the rest of their lives.
I have also helped secure state funding to combat Lyme. Last year, a record $1 million was included in the state budget for research, education and prevention efforts. Unfortunately, the new Senate majority failed to continue that commitment this year and the funding was not included in the new state budget – a major disappointment.
Additional information regarding Lyme disease prevention, how to remove a tick, and symptoms is available through the state Department of Health website at www.health.ny.gov. By knowing the facts and taking precautions, you can enjoy the outdoors and avoid Lyme disease.
James L. Seward, R-Milford, represents the 51st state Senate district, which includes Otsego and eight other counties.