Nearly 40 years after Lyme disease was first diagnosed in the United States, efforts are finally being made to deal with it in a comprehensive way.
The House of Representatives passed Congressman Chris Gibson’s Tick-borne Disease Research Transparency and Accountability Act of 2014 Tuesday, Sept. 9, in Washington, D.C. The bipartisan legislation — the first standalone bill addressing this topic — prioritizes federal research on Lyme disease and related illnesses.
This legislation is significant for people living in the Capital District. If you pardon the pun, Lyme and related diseases have been on the uptick over the last decade. In 2011, there were more than 400 cases of tick-borne diseases reported in the region, which was more than double the number reported in 2005. However, if you travel around the Northeast, the numbers of reported cases are higher — especially Downstate, Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
This is why Gibson’s bill is important. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law by President Barack Obama, it will lead to federally funded research that may lead to a cure for Lyme and other diseases. That would be welcome news for the approximate 300,000 people who come down with tick-borne diseases every year.
However, this bill alone won’t stem the tide of infection because it doesn’t address the source of these diseases — eradicating the tick population. People are still going to get Lyme disease because they will continue to come into contact with these parasites, and they don’t have to travel into the woods to do so. That’s because ticks are hitching rides with deer as they make their way through suburban developments built on land they used to roam freely.
Ridding our towns of ticks is easier said than done. In order to produce results, the deer population must also be controlled through expansion of approved hunting land. Fewer deer in our neighborhoods will mean fewer deer ticks in our backyards. This means giving hunters permission to work closer to populated areas and animal control officers the option of shooting deer.
The Town of Bethlehem has already taken one step toward managing the deer and tick populations. Its Deer and Tick Borne Disease Committee recently launched an online survey town residents can use to add their voices to the discussion. It will also hold a public forum before making its recommendations to the Town Board. We hope other towns will also consider these steps.
There are other methods that may eliminate ticks without killing deer. Bait boxes can be installed to spray deer with pesticides, and tick tubes can be deployed to lure the pests away from coming into contact with humans. Hopefully, these methods can also be used so the need for controlling the deer population isn’t the only solution.
What the House of Representatives has done on a national level and the Town of Bethlehem has done on a local level are commendable. But unless more is done to eradicate Lyme disease and other tick-borne ailments, we are all at risk.
The only way to deal with this is with a comprehensive plan.