Chuck Schumer calls on the CDC to increase research on Powassan virus, other tick-borne diseases
Upon the recent discovery of the presence of Powassan virus in ticks in the Hudson Valley, New York’s senior Senator is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to immediately allocate resources towards the study, prevention and treatment of the emerging Powassan virus threat.
Earlier this year, researchers found the virus present in a significant number of ticks in the Hudson Valley and a recent case of Powassan virus was found in Saratoga County in May.
In addition, Schumer wants the federal health agency to direct more resources and attention towards fighting back against the growing problem of other tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and Babesiosis.
According to a Schumer press release, the Powassan virus causes debilitating symptoms similar to Lyme disease, but it is much more dangerous: it can transmit much more quickly than Lyme disease, there is currently no treatment for Powassan virus, and it is much more lethal – killing 30% of those affected statewide since 2004.
In addition to his push for the CDC to focus on this little-known threat, The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act would help combat the new and growing epidemic by improving and expanding the federal government’s efforts to contain the spread of these and other tick-borne illnesses.
The bill would expand research into Lyme disease, improve education, and require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to produce a report to educate doctors and other health professionals on the latest research and treatment options for the disease. Schumer explained that research from the CDC and development of a specific plan to help address this new virus, and other tick-borne diseases is a crucial complement to his legislation, and will help inform the treatment and prevention research funded by his bill.
“Already, Lyme disease is one of the least-understood illnesses plaguing residents in the Hudson Valley and the entire Northeast. Now, with the emerging threat of newer tick-borne illnesses like Powassan virus and antibiotic-resistant strains of Lyme, the need for more research is clear and compelling. We need to bring Lyme disease and the Powassan virus out of the weeds and better educate the public about how to keep themselves and their families’ safe,” said Senator Schumer.
“Lyme disease is a problem we’ve seen for decades and the Hudson Valley and Dutchess County has been the epicenter of that problem. The Powassan virus is a rare but dangerous disease now present in New York—and we haven’t done nearly enough at the federal level to tackle it. That’s why I’m introducing a one-two punch to help boost research on treatment and prevention at the federal level: first, I am asking the CDC to look into new threats like the Powassan Virus, and second, I am reintroducing legislation that would provide the resources and organization to advance research and education into tick-borne illnesses.”
The Powassan virus is a rare but emerging tick-borne illness that is transmitted by the same deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease. But unlike Lyme disease, there’s no treatment for Powassan virus; doctors can only address the symptoms. The virus can cause central nervous system malfunction, meningitis and encephalitis — brain swelling. Also unlike Lyme, the Powassan virus can be transmitted within 15 minutes of a tick bite, whereas Lyme can take up to 24 hours to transmit – meaning if a tick is caught within a day of the bite, the transmission of Lyme can be prevented.
The number of other tick-borne illnesses reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on the rise, led by Lyme disease, but also including anaplasmosis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis. The Hudson Valley had been the national epicenter of such diseases for years. In 2009, Dutchess County had 979 cases of Lyme disease, according to the New York State Department of Health. And from 2002 to 2006, Dutchess County led the nation in the number of reported Lyme cases, 6,407. While Lyme can be treated effectively with antibiotics if caught early, some patients suffer lingering, debilitating symptoms.
The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act would aim to educate the community in order to increase awareness of tick-borne illnesses and the warning signs for such conditions, as well as educate the health community to aide in accurate diagnosis of these illnesses, especially new conditions such as Powassan virus. The legislation would increase public education through the Community Based Education Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and create a physician-education program that includes the full spectrum of scientific research related to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
The Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act also directs the Secretary of HHS to develop more accurate and time-sensitive diagnostic tools to strengthen surveillance and reporting of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, which would help determine prevalence of various illnesses. This provision would be particularly helpful in developing strategies to combat the spread of emerging illnesses like Powassan virus and Babesiosis. This would provide doctors and health care professionals with the tools necessary to better diagnose and treat these illnesses in the Ulster community. Increasing community knowledge of the symptoms and treatment for tick-borne illnesses will allow both patients and physicians to be more proactive in the course of treatment, and vigilant against potential infections in the event of a tick bite.
Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced a human case of Powassan virus, the first time the disease was ever reported in the state.
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