Assemblymember Wallace, Senator Kennedy, Erie County Health Department Kick Off Lyme Disease Awareness Month, Discuss Safety and Prevention

Today, Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) and Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) were joined by Erie County Health Department Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve to kick off Lyme Disease Awareness Month, which is recognized annually during the month of May.

Across the country, Lyme disease and other vector-borne illnesses are on the rise. In a report1 released this week, the Center for Disease Control reports that vector-borne illnesses more than tripled from 2004 to 2016, outlining the need for increased awareness of prevention methods, symptoms, and treatment options. The report also indicates that the United States is not well-prepared to combat this growing public health threat.

“Since Lyme disease is somewhat new to Western New York, and the number of reported cases is rising year-over-year, it’s important to alert the public of the dangers, symptoms, and treatment,” said Assemblymember Monica Wallace. “In Erie County, we wait long enough for warm weather and are eager to enjoy outdoor activities with our families and pets. This time of year, though, ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. That’s why it’s vital to our short- and long-term health to follow prevention guidelines and know the symptoms so that appropriate medical treatment can be sought in a timely manner.”

Wallace noted that symptoms to look for include a rash at the site of the bite, fever, aches, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms.

If caught in the early stages, Lyme disease can be reversed with appropriate medical treatment. However, if it is not diagnosed early, the bacteria can spread and go into hiding throughout the body, with symptoms disappearing and reappearing intensely, leading to harder to resolve issues. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 10-20% of Americans who are diagnosed with Lyme have chronic long-term issues stemming from the tick bite. Other studies suggest it may be even higher than that.

In the state Legislature, Senator Kennedy introduced a bill, s.670, which would require health insurance providers to cover long-term medical care for Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens. Wallace is the sponsor of the bill in the Assembly.

"According to the CDC, Lyme Disease is one of the fastest growing vector-borne infectious diseases in the U.S., with 300,000 people becoming infected every year. Those who contract the disease often suffer from flu-like symptoms and extreme fatigue for years, yet insurance companies in New York are not required to provide long-term coverage for those facing this devastating chronic condition. This is simply unacceptable," said Senator Tim Kennedy. "I'm proud to work alongside Assemblymember Monica Wallace to try to ease the financial burden for those with Lyme disease, and provide them with the support and peace of mind they should have received long ago."

In Erie County, cases of Lyme disease reported to the Erie County Health Department are on the rise. Dr. Gale Burstein has been a leading advocate of awareness and prevention of Lyme disease as its footprint grows in Western New York.

“In Erie County, the number of reported Lyme Disease cases in 2017 were almost quadruple the number reported in 2015,” said Dr. Gale Burstein. “You can decrease the chances of being bitten by a tick with a few precautions. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, use EPA-registered insect repellents, such as those containing DEET, treat boots, pants, socks, and tents with permethrin, control ticks and fleas on pets, perform tick checks after being outdoors, show after being outdoors, and recognize the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.”

Fortunately, with appropriate precautions, Lyme disease is preventable. While enjoying nature, especially in wooded and grassy areas, keep skin exposure minimal, and apply insect repellent with 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET. Although not all ticks are infected, it is essential to make thorough examinations of your skin and pets a routine after outdoor activities. Attached ticks can be difficult to detect and can be as small as a poppy seed. Additionally, tumble dry your clothes on high heat for a few minutes in case a tick may have latched onto your clothes.

Wallace, Kennedy, and Burstein all stressed to not allow Lyme disease to detract from outdoor activities, but rather to be vigilant while enjoying the outdoors, know the options available for prevention, and look for symptoms if you believe you or a loved one have been bitten by a tick.