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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Beware of a tick near you"
ALBANY, June 30 -- Lyme disease, once considered mostly
a “downstate” concern, is now a
In recent weeks, as we’ve entered the height of tick season, we’ve heard public health officials in Yates and other area counties issue warnings about this debilitating illness that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans annually.
So while it didn’t receive the attention it deserved in the closing days of this year’s legislative session in Albany a little over a week ago, the State Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases released an important report that we hope will continue to spark and guide the development of federal- and state-level action plans to address the rising concern.
Approximately 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 450 new cases of Lyme disease have been reported in New York State alone so far in 2014. And that number is expected to continue rising each year as disease-laden ticks spread to more and more communities.
In fact, the new Senate report, based upon statistics from the state Department of Health (DOH), identifies Chemung, Schuyler and other regional counties as having experienced dramatic increases in cases of Lyme disease.
Lyme is a debilitating disease that should be taken seriously by everyone who enjoys the outdoors, even if it’s just while doing yard work or gardening. Those who suffer from Lyme disease can endure years of frustration seeking effective diagnosis and treatment. We’re trying to encourage and implement a comprehensive response. We want to raise awareness and enhance prevention and treatment strategies.
The Senate created its Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases last October. Since then, the Task Force has reviewed research, consulted with experts, received public input and worked to develop legislation and other recommendations that we hope will be incorporated into a New York State Action Plan on Lyme and Tick-borne Diseases. This action plan would be similar in purpose and scope to the one created by the state DOH in 2001 to address the outbreak of West Nile Virus. It would serve as a comprehensive roadmap for the state to prevent additional illnesses by improving research, education, diagnosis and treatment.
The Senate report includes a comprehensive set of recommendations focusing on the need for additional research and data about past, current and future disease trends; increased public awareness as the reach of the diseases spread to new communities; implementation of preventive measures; and measures to enhance diagnosis and treatment.
The report’s recommendations also include several other important research initiatives aimed at prevention and providing a better understanding of tick-borne diseases, which can be fatal. Other recommendations call for a public education campaign, opportunities for continuing medical education, and a county learning collaborative. The collaborative is designed to partner counties in the state who have been at the epicenter of this epidemic with counties who are just beginning to experience outbreaks as the diseases move north and west. The collaborative would encourage the sharing of best practices.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Task Force will convene a statewide conference later this year to bring together numerous universities, including Cornell University, and institutes from across the state already working on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The conference will focus on building collaboration and data sharing between the research community and the state DOH, and increasing access to federal research grants. We’re hopeful that it will jump-start even more action.
As stated in the executive summary of our recent report, “The geographic spread of Lyme and Tick-Borne diseases demand a comprehensive response by the State to encourage detection and prevention initiatives, and facilitate diagnostic and treatment advancements. While the impact of Lyme disease is widespread, a large number of the cases remain unreported. This lack of reporting is a cause of concern given that Lyme disease remains the most prevalent Tick-Borne disease in New York State. As such, the Task Force recommendations include various initiatives to help the Department of Health increase reporting and data collection in the State.”
The full report is available through my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov by clicking on the “Combatting Lyme Disease” icon in the left-hand column of the home page.
Additional information, including prevention tips, is available from the state Health Department at: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869