Lyme disease—a tick-borne illness that can cause debilitating pain, weakness, and fatigue—has long become a painful reality for too many Americans, including in states like Connecticut and New Hampshire. While the disease is still heavily concentrated in the Northeast, it has aggressively spread throughout the mid-Atlantic and Midwest as well. In addition to Lyme disease, there are 13 other tick-borne diseases spread by nine species of ticks throughout the country, with Southern states having the highest number of reported cases.
According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the species of ticks that spread Lyme disease live in 46 percent of the nation’s counties. Between 2003 and 2013, the estimated number of new Lyme disease infections grew by 34 percent –making it the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the country. It is time for the federal government to get serious about this emerging health crisis. That is why we introduced the bipartisan Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act of 2015 (S. 1503).
Despite the staggering statistics, the voices of people suffering from tick-borne diseases are not being heard. Lack of action has allowed these diseases to spread, infecting hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Patients infected by these diseases face painful symptoms that disrupt their lives and place major emotional and financial stresses on their families.
Recently, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, we hosted a congressional briefing about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The briefing included remarks from leading medical experts and patients-turned-advocates who are now fighting to increase public awareness about these devastating diseases and calling on Congress to act. We stand with these advocates and the millions of other tick-borne disease survivors throughout the country in urging our colleagues to take prompt action on this important legislation.
Unfortunately, not enough is understood about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and without research and a coordinated effort, we will never make the discoveries necessary to alleviate the suffering they cause. As a first step, the bipartisan legislation we have introduced would create an advisory committee to assist the secretary of Health and Human Services in coordinating the federal government’s response to tick-borne diseases. The advisory committee is designed to bring together patients, advocates, researchers, medical professionals and government officials to facilitate an aggressive approach to combat tick-borne disease. The bill would also require the federal government to strengthen disease surveillance and reporting, create a physician education program, establish epidemiological research objectives for tick-borne diseases, and submit regular reports to Congress on the progress of efforts to combat these devastating diseases.
At a time when partisan politics seems to creep into nearly every issue, this is one area where party lines should be irrelevant. Our bill has earned the support of 13 additional senators from both parties, including five members of the Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. When it comes to fighting Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, we’re all in this together.