If You Enjoy The Outdoors, Take This Seriously

New York State has the third highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

It is a public health concern that has become increasingly urgent over the last decade.

Over the past few years, my colleagues and I have consistently made significant investments in the state budget to help combat the spread of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases (TBDs). In last year’s budget alone, we secured a historic $1 million. The recently enacted state budget, however, failed to maintain this critically important funding which helped support vital research, education, and prevention initiatives. Given what we know, it strikes me that programs and services combating the spread of Lyme and TBDs should automatically be carved out as priorities in a budget totaling over $175 billion.

Nevertheless, many of us will continue to do everything we can to keep raising awareness.

There was a time when concern over Lyme disease was largely confined to the lower Hudson Valley. No longer. Over the past several years, in fact, it has been a rapidly growing danger throughout upstate New York and has drawn increasingly heightened warnings from Southern Tier and Finger Lakes public health officials.

Many, many health professionals go out of their way to urge caution. Recent statistics from the state Department of Health (DOH) reaffirm that cases of Lyme disease across area counties shot up in the five years between 2011 and 2016. In Chemung County, for example, the rate of diagnoses rose from just under eight cases per 100,000 residents to 108.

Lyme is a debilitating disease. If you enjoy the outdoors, even if that means doing yard work or gardening, take it seriously. Those afflicted by Lyme can endure years of frustration, to put it mildly, seeking effective diagnosis and treatment.

In 2013, Senate Republicans established a Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases, on which I serve, to continually review research, consult with experts, conduct public hearings and work to develop legislation and other recommendations that we hope will become part of a New York State Action Plan on Lyme and TBDs. We continue that work to ensure that this issue takes center stage at the Capitol to achieve our overriding goal: to put in place a statewide plan that will serve as a comprehensive roadmap for improving research, education, diagnosis and treatment.

Legislation approved in the past has significantly increased reporting and enhanced critical research, education, and awareness initiatives. One measure, for example, required the state Department of Financial Services to examine the current scope of health insurance coverage for Lyme and tick-borne diseases in New York, and initiatives in other states, and issue a report on alternatives for enhancing coverage in New York State. Another required the state Health Department to work with health care providers and experts to develop a standard protocol and patient notification for diagnosis and treatment.

Legislation and other initiatives must remain part of any ongoing legislative effort to encourage and guide the development of state-level strategies to address this ever-increasing risk.

Approximately 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually, according to the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html). The following state Health Department web page offers important information on prevention, safety and treatment: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/. The Southern Tier-based organization “A Hope 4 Lyme” also provides access to important information and updates at https://ahope4lyme.org.

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