Taking on Lyme disease

Monday July 16, 2012

Lyme disease is a relatively new malady, first discovered in 1975 in and around Lyme, Connecticut. The health community was slow to react to its appearance, in part because its symptoms can be attributed to other ailments, but af ter the disease was traced to a specific tick in 1981 forces slowly began to mobilize. There is still no national strategy, however, for dealing with the disease, which may change if Congress can actually come together in the best interests of all.

Observing that the Lyme disease problem is growing and resources are required to combat it, Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, introduced a bill creating an advisory committee to find ways to better coordinate research, diagnostic tests and other approaches. Republican Chris Smith, who has pushed similar legislation in the past, is leading the effort in the House, and ideally this will be his year.

If caught early, the disease is treated with antibiotics with considerable success. If left untreated or not treated successfully, however, it can cause arthritis or lead to problems with the heart and nervous system. To avoid infected deer ticks, it is ad visable to avoid wooded or bushy areas with high grass, but those who enjoy frequenting the wild should wear protective gear and check later for ticks. Their bite is often but not always accompanied by a bulls-eye rash.

With global warming, all manner of creatures are moving north, and that includes the Lyme tick, which has made it way to the Berkshires. South Berkshire County has a "particularly high incidence" of the disease, according to the Massa chusetts Department of Health quoted this spring in The Eagle. The mild winter followed by a warm spring apparently led to an early arrival of the ticks in the Berkshires. They often attach themselves to the coats of pets, which enables them to make the trip indoors.

Lyme disease is the sixth-most common reportable disease in the U.S. and health experts believe there are many unreported cases because tests aren't always reliable. There is much work to be done in combating it, and Washington must play a part in terms of resources and coordination.


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