CDC Data Shows Why Lyme Disease Bill Should Be Taken Up Now (Rep. Chris Smith)

Weeks ago I introduced a bipartisan bill to combat Lyme disease, a growing health dilemma across the nation.

I thank Congressmen Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Tim Holden, (D-Pa.) who are the original co-sponsors of the “Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act of 2009.”

The measure, H.R. 1179, would expand federal efforts concerning the prevention, education, treatment, and research activities related to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, including the establishment of a Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee. Congressmen Stupak, Wolf and Holden and I are co-chairs of the House Lyme Disease Caucus.

H.R. 1179 authorizes a much-needed increase in total research and education of $100 million over five years. The bill also contains measures to ensure that resources are expended effectively to provide the most benefit to people with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. A key goal of the bill is the development of more sensitive and accurate diagnostic tests.  It also seeks improved surveillance and prevention and clinical outcomes research to determine the long-term course of the illness and effectiveness of different treatments. The Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee would ensure coordination and communication among many federal agencies, a broad range of medical professionals, and patients.

Lyme is one of the most prevalent diseases in the U.S. today. About 220,000 Americans develop Lyme disease each year, and we suspect that number is a conservative estimate. This bill provides a comprehensive national effort to step up the fight against this ever-growing threat. My state of New Jersey is particularly hard hit, but this problem is national in its scope.

While Lyme accounts for 90 percent of tick-borne diseases in the U.S., the same tick species spreads other diseases, such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Other tick species spread diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and southern tick-associated illness. More than 30 affiliate organizations of the Lyme Disease Association Inc. support the measure.

Lyme disease can lead to chronic illness and can affect every system in the body, including the central nervous system. Advanced symptoms include arthritis of weight-bearing joints, neurological and cardiac problems, encephalopathy and memory problems. The CDC has determined that from 1992 to 2006, the incidence of Lyme disease was highest among children aged 5 to 14 years of age.

Each day many more people are being infected, and more people who already have Lyme disease are being misdiagnosed and mistreated. There is no reason to delay. Congress needs to take action and move on this bill. People are suffering. Why should they have to wait any longer?