Blacklegged tick

The blacklegged or deer tick as it is sometimes called is the most common carrier of Lyme disease.

As New York state has seen what she calls an overwhelming increase in ticks, Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is calling for millions in research to defend against the health problem.

Calling New York a “hotspot” for tick-borne disease, Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called for $12 million for the Department of Defense’s Tick-Borne Disease Research Program (TBDRP) and increased funding for tick-borne disease research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

New York state, the No. 1 target for tick-related disease in the U.S., has seen 92,577 cases of Lyme reported over the last two decades, the senator said.

In Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, incidents of tick-borne disease are low compared to the other counties, particularly in the Capital and Mid-Hudson regions. Cattaraugus County averaged 7.75 cases of Lyme disease a year between 2000 and 2019. Allegany County averaged 3.8 cases per year.

Dutchess County averaged nearly 640 cases per year, while Orange County averaged more than 344 cases of Lyme disease a year during the same period.

Despite the high number of vector-borne diseases in New York and across the country, Gillibrand said federal investment in research and prevention for these diseases remains low, with just $191 spent per case of Lyme disease.

“New York is a hotspot for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, and our communities have felt the impact of these diseases for years,” Gillibrand said during a press event in Washington. “Vector-borne diseases are a growing public health crisis, and it’s critical we deliver funding for research, surveillance, prevention and outbreak response to help us combat the often-devastating and life-altering impacts of these illnesses.”

David Roth, Project Lyme Executive Committee chairman, said when he became severely ill in 2010, it took 10 doctors and multiple false negative test results before being diagnosed with Lyme disease and the co-infection babesia.

“There are enormous gaps in our understanding of the pathology of these diseases and their treatment, and there is a tremendous need for better diagnostic tests,” Roth said, while lauding Gillibrand’s leadership on the issue of increased funding for research.

Gillibrand’s $12 million request for the DOD’s tick-borne disease research would support study of fundamental issues and knowledge gaps related to tick-borne illnesses. Additional funding would help states build a public health infrastructure for Lyme and other vector-borne diseases to support early detection and diagnosis, improve treatment and raise awareness and fund the Centers of Excellence for Lyme and tick-borne disease leading the scientific response against tick-borne diseases.

It also would help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategy for vector-borne diseases, including tick-borne diseases, in an effort to coordinate efforts among various government agencies. Gillibrand is also committed to securing funding for the CDC to expand underfunded programs in the area.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks, which can be transmitted through a bite to a human or animal. If left untreated, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi travels through the bloodstream, manifests itself in body tissues, and causes mild or severe symptoms, depending on the case.

Lyme disease begins as a rash at the location of the tick bite and then spreads to the nervous system, heart and joints. Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment are crucial to recovery, and appropriate antibiotic use in the early stages of Lyme disease typically results in a swift recovery.

Untreated and undiagnosed Lyme disease can lead to debilitating effects on a person’s health.

Gillibrand’s office notes there are at least 18 known infectious tick-borne pathogens, with 20 conditions and 13 illnesses resulting from tick bites. The United States has more than doubled the number of Lyme disease cases reported 15 years ago, nearing 500,000 cases and costing an estimated $1.3 billion in direct medical costs annually.

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