Congressman Smith Kicks-off Lyme Disease Awareness Month; NJ Ranks 3rd Nationwide in Case Numbers

Gearing up to renew the fight against Lyme disease, including prevention, research, diagnostics and treatments, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today joined the President of the national group of the Lyme Disease Association and a researcher from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and county and local officials to kick-off Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

Smith, who founded and co-chaired the Lyme Disease Caucus in Congress, has introduced legislation to establish a federal Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee. The bill will promote development of new and improved diagnostic tests, boost surveillance and reporting, push clinical outcomes research and expand efforts to prevent this dreaded disease.

“People suffering the devastating and debilitating consequences of Lyme and other vector-borne diseases deserve no less,” said Smith, whose home state of New Jersey is one of the most heavily impacted states and who has worked on Lyme Disease since the early 1990s. “Less than 10 percent of cases are believed to be reported, according to the CDC. As Chairman of the Lyme Disease Caucus in the House of Representatives, I’ve introduced comprehensive legislation– H.R. 611 the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Prevention, Education, and Research Act of 2013. The bill would authorize $20 million a year for five years on new research and establish an Advisory Committee to bring real input and scrutiny to this vexing and misunderstood disease.”

Under the legislation, the Advisory Committee would be tasked with enhancing communication among federal agencies, medical professionals, and patients/patient advocates and to ensure that a broad spectrum of scientific viewpoints is represented in public health policy decisions. The bill also requires that the information disseminated to the public and physicians is balanced. There has been great concern over the last several years that meritorious analyses and opinions regarding “chronic” Lyme have been withheld from doctors, patients and insurers.

“While entering Lyme Disease Awareness Month in May, we need to remember that NJ ranks 3rd nationwide in case numbers and that the ticks which transmit Lyme disease become more active when temperatures are above 35°,” said Pat Smith, president of the national non-profit Lyme Disease Association. “Children 5-14 are at the highest risk of acquiring the disease, so it’s imperative that parents educate their children about tick avoidance and tick checks, since if not diagnosed and treated early, Lyme can lead to disseminated infection, affecting every system in the body. Early symptoms may include a flu-like illness and rash, but mental confusion, memory and concentration problems, joint & muscle problems, heart palpitations, and gastrointestinal problems may occur over time.”

In 2011, 96 percent of Lyme disease cases were reported from 13 states, including New Jersey.

The Lyme Disease Caucus is dedicated to educating Members of Congress and staff about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, as well as advancing initiatives that are designed to help the estimated 275,000 Americans who develop Lyme disease each year and all of those living with the disease.

The other heavily impacted states include Virginia and New York, and Co-chair Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10) and Rep. Chris Gibson (NY-19) have agreed to become original cosponsors of the legislation to continue their advocacy in support of greater federal efforts to treat and care for individuals suffering from Lyme in their states and districts.

Lyme is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the U.S. today. If not diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can lead to disseminated infection and can affect every system in the body, including the central nervous system. Later symptoms of Lyme disease include arthritis of weight-bearing joints; neurological problems, such as facial paralysis, encephalopathy, memory problems, weakness of the extremities; and heart symptoms, such as heart block and inflammation of the heart muscle. Lyme has been reported in every U.S. state and is becoming more prevalent. [TLS]

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