Officials bite into Lyme DiseaseReed holds strategy meeting
To the many Block Islanders who have suffered from Lyme Disease, it might seem that no one is noticing. But the increase in the number of cases of the disease here and on mainland Rhode Island, as well as in other Northeastern states, is attracting the attention of national and local officials.
Last week Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed joined with leading experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC); Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health; and local health officials and researchers from the University of Rhode Island (URI) and South County Hospital to discuss what is fueling the spread of Lyme disease and the latest efforts to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
According to Dr. Thomas Mather, director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease and TickEncounter Resource Center, deer tick numbers in Rhode Island are up 80 percent over 2011 levels and 142 percent above the previous five-year average, meaning that the risk of contracting Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases is especially high. Mather reports that his tick surveillance team has now completed the first round of tick sampling at all 60 of the sites monitored for the past 18 years.
The risk of Rhode Islanders contracting the disease is more than three times higher than the national incidence rate, and nationally, the CDC estimates about 20,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed and reported annually in the U.S., but says the actual number of cases could be up to 10 times that amount because the disease is often undiagnosed or unreported.
As a member of the Senate’s Appropriation Committee, Senator Reed is co-author with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act (S. 1381), a bill which would help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) develop more accurate and time-sensitive diagnostic tools to strengthen surveillance and reporting of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. The bill would also expand prevention of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases through community-based public education and create a physician-education program that includes the full spectrum of scientific research on the diseases; and it would establish a Tick-Borne Disease Advisory Committee to streamline coordination between federal agencies and private organizations addressing tick-borne illnesses. Reed, his office says, helped secure $28 million in federal funding for Lyme Disease research last year to help URI researchers examine ways to cut down Lyme disease infection rates.
“Lyme disease is a serious health problem and infected ticks are being found in greater numbers in Rhode Island and other parts of the country. It is important for people to be aware and know what they can do to protect themselves and their families,” said Reed. “We also want to ensure doctors and nurses have the latest tools and training they need to properly diagnose and treat patients. I am working to boost federal research and coordination to help prevent Lyme disease and strengthen surveillance of tick-borne illnesses.”