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New Federal Bill by CNY Rep Katko Could Help Prevention and Treatment of Lyme, other Tick-Borne Disease

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Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Upstate tick-disease researchers joined Rep. John Katko in introducing bill to gather data on illnesses, tick populations, and help educate the public about the health threat.

More help could be on the way from the federal government to help combat the rise in tick-borne illnesses. Syracuse medical and research experts could use the help to protect the public.

Have you ever found a tick on yourself or a family member? It can be a little scary – in part because you don’t know how much of a health threat you’re facing. And you’ve probably heard the tick problem is growing. And Upstate Medical Immunology Doctor Saravanan Thangamani adds so is the disease threat.

“We know from our own data that the number of ticks we have received in our lab has tripled and also the number of ticks that carry the (disease) agents has doubled. In addition to Lyme disease, diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis are also on the rise.”

He, along with other experts, joined Congress Member John Katko in re-introducing the Tick Identification Pilot Program Act. Katko says the bill would set up education efforts in communities, help track tick popualtions by geography and seasonality, and perhaps most importantly offer health risk information to anyone who encounters one of the pests.

“The identification program would allow individuals to send pictures of ticks to a vector-borne biologist, who would identify the tick and respond to the individual with a bevy of recommendations. But, really think about it. Take out your phone; you have a tick bite or what you think is a tick bite, send it to these doctors, and they’ll tell you whether you should be concerned, and what you should do about it.”

That kind of information could lead directly to some treatment for what Upstate Immunology Professor Kristopher Paolino says are serious conditions.

“I can have a conversation with somebody and say ‘this looks like anaplasmosis. You need to start this patient on a therapy right away.’ And this is something where, we talk about the long-term effects of Lyme (disease) but some of these other diseases like babesiosis and anaplasmosis can actually be life-threatening acutely. So the importance of the work that can be done through an act like this is really unprecedented.”

Upstate is already helping people identify ticks if they’re sent in for analysis … in fact they’re considered something of a national model. This bill would not only greatly increase those efforts nationwide, but also help collect data on ticks and the diseases they carry to further improve public health. SUNY ESF Professor Brian Leydet who studies tick-borne diseases and preventing them, is not sure people take prevention seriously enough.

“So, I think until tucking your pants into your socks (when hiking) is at the level of sunscreen, I really don’t think we’re at that level yet in public health. When we changed laws for seatbelts, it was a behavior change shift. And I think understanding the seriousness and getting people to change innate behavior is what we’re trying to do. And I think something like this bill will get that data in hand to push to the public.”

Katko says the Tick Identification Pilot Program Act has bipartisan support in Congress.