New Task Force Report & Recommendations to Address Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases

The New York State Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases today released a report and legislation that provides a comprehensive set of recommendations for a state action plan to enhance research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment for harmful tick-borne illnesses. To date in 2014, more than 450 new cases of Lyme disease have been reported in New York alone, and the number is expected to continue rising each year as disease-laden ticks spread to more communities.

The report’s recommendations focus on the need for: additional research and data about past, current and future disease trends; increased public awareness as the reach of the diseases spread to new communities; implementation of preventive measures such as “4 Poster” devices and bait vaccines for animals to reduce the infected tick population; and measures to enhance diagnosis and treatment for those who have the diseases.

In October 2013, Senate Majority Coalition Co-Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein created the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases. The task force is co-chaired by Senator Kemp Hannon (R-C-I, Nassau), Chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Senator David Carlucci (D, Rockland/Westchester), Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson) and Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury).

Over the past nine months, the Task Force reviewed research, consulted with experts, heard from the public and worked to develop legislation and 19 recommendations to be incorporated into a New York State Action Plan on Lyme and tick-borne diseases. This Action Plan – similar in purpose to one created by the state Department of Health in 2001 to address the West Nile Virus outbreak -- should serve as a comprehensive roadmap for the state to prevent additional illnesses by improving research, education, diagnosis and treatment.

Senator Hannon said, “Lyme disease continues its devastating march through our state’s communities and poses a serious public health threat. Our Task Force has worked closely with experts to begin setting a course the state can use to research, prevent, and treat Lyme and other tick-borne diseases and I look forward to continuing this work going forward. Through legislation we have advanced here in the Senate, and in working with state and federal officials, we can implement a comprehensive response that will address this epidemic.  A State Action Plan  aimed at addressing Lyme and tick-borne diseases is essential.” 

Senator Carlucci said, “Lyme disease has progressed into a national epidemic. Legislation and recommendations crafted by the Lyme Disease Task Force will not only lower the amount of cases of these tick-borne illnesses, it will improve the quality of health among those living with this dreadful illness.”

Senator LaValle said, “This brings Lyme Disease to the forefront to make sure the Centers for Disease Control commits the necessary funding and resources that this disease warrants.  For the first time, there is an action plan to consolidate our many resources and focus on disease prevention strategies.  I am pleased that we have secured funds and are advocating for initiatives such as the 4-poster program that has had such good results in places like Shelter Island, where there are high incidences of Lyme Disease.”

Senator Little said, “Many of those who suffer from Lyme Disease face months, if not years, of uncertainty and frustration as they seek the best course of treatment for this illness. As I learn more about Lyme, the challenge of diagnosing and treating it becomes more apparent.  Today we’re calling on the federal government to take a more proactive role to help find answers to the many questions surrounding the disease.  More funding is needed for research.  Given Lyme’s reach into other states and its growing prevalence, a comprehensive approach is warranted.  On the state level, we’re calling on the State Health Department to develop an Action Plan, which would incorporate the recommendations proposed by this task force.  Finally, we want to ensure that doctors acting in their patients’ best interests are not unjustly targeted for professional misconduct.”

The report recommendations include several important research initiatives aimed at prevention and providing a better understanding of tick-borne diseases, which can be fatal. Additionally, a statewide conference hosted by the Task Force later in the year will be organized to bring together numerous universities and institutes from across the state who are already working on Lyme and tick-borne disease. The conference will focus on building collaboration and data sharing between the research community and the State Health Department and increasing access to federal research grants. 

Other recommendations include a public education campaign, opportunities for continuing medical education, and a county learning collaborative.  The collaborative is designed to partner counties in the state who have been at the epicenter of  this epidemic with counties who are just beginning to experience outbreaks as the diseases move north and west in order to encourage the sharing of best practices.

The full report is available below.

In addition, the Senate is expected to act on a bill (S7854), sponsored by Senator Hannon and recommended by the task force, that codifies existing state health policy by enabling the state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) to maintain a flexible, case-specific, investigations policy, particularly where new treatments and acceptance by the medical community do not align. 

Some individuals infected with Lyme disease may benefit from alternative medical treatment that is not universally accepted by the medical community. Too often, doctors choose not to pursue the alternative treatment – even if they believe it is best for the patient – fearing an investigation or charges by OPMC.

This legislation ensures that determinations of effective and appropriate treatment of Lyme and other illnesses remain in the hands of medical professionals and does not subject practitioners to OPMC identification, investigation or charges based solely on their recommendation or provision of an innovative and effective treatment.

The bill is one of four initiatives that the Senate has implemented or is in the process of implementing during this session to address Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The others include: 

· Tomorrow, the Senate is adopting a resolution calling on the Centers for Disease Control to reevaluate its guidance on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases and for the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies to provide more funding for these diseases. 
· The 2014-15 state budget included $500,000 to support the recommendations being developed by the task force, and $100,000, along with supporting legislation (S2115), sponsored by Senator Patricia Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton) and recommended by the task force, for the creation of a 21st Century Work Group for Disease Elimination and Reduction within the Department of Health.
· The Senate will help increase public education through new informational brochures and wallet cards with important information about Lyme or tick-borne disease identification tools and resources.

In addition to the Co-Chairs, members of the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-borne Diseases include: Senator Mark Grisanti (R, North Buffalo), Senator Kathy Marchione (R-C, Halfmoon), Senator Greg Ball (R-C-I, Patterson), and Senator Bill Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-on-Hudson). 

Senator Grisanti said, “Lyme Disease and other deadly tick-borne illnesses are serious threats to anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Our task force focused on identifying the resources needed to help prevent their continued spread and the best ways to help those who struggle with these illnesses. I look forward to continuing this important work with our partners on the state and federal levels, the research community, and the public.”

Senator Marchione said, “I represent Columbia County which has some of the highest reported cases of Lyme Disease not just in New York State, but the United States. I have listened to heart-wrenching stories from my constituents who are living with – and struggling with – Lyme Disease and the serious physical, emotional, psychological and financial devastation that it has caused them and their families. While the state Legislature should not be practicing medicine, we can, and should, ensure that pioneering and courageous doctors taking a proactive approach to treating Lyme Disease are not unfairly targeted by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct. Doctors shouldn’t be threatened with investigations or possible loss of their license to practice medicine just because they put their patients first. Passage of a legislative remedy that will help protect doctors, sponsored by my colleague Senator Hannon, along with other bipartisan recommendations from our Task Force report, should be at the top of Albany’s must-do list before session concludes.”

Senator Ball said, “Lyme is a debilitating disease that affects thousands of my constituents, including family members. I was honored to be appointed to the Senate Majority Coalition Task Force On Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases. I proudly worked with my colleagues to put forth legislation to assist those battling with this horrible disease. There is much more work to be done, but this is a great leap forward.” 

Senator Larkin said, “I am pleased we are passing this long overdue legislation. Senate Bill 7854 will ensure patients who have not responded to standard courses of treatment will have the option to pursue long-term antibiotic therapy.  For too long, physicians have been unable to pursue this course of treatment without fear of reprisal.  This legislation will allow the individual course of treatment to be determined by the physician and their patient free of bureaucratic entanglements.”