A New York state assemblymember from the Hudson Valley has launched a public education campaign on Lyme and tick-borne diseases. The initiative is aimed at raising awareness about ticks and their infections and boosting advocacy efforts.
Democratic Assemblymember Didi Barrett says it’s time to #GetTickedOff. That’s the name of her social media campaign to push for legislative, policy and budgetary actions to grapple with the epidemic of Lyme and tick-borne diseases.
“It just feels like this has been going on for so long and the impact has been so widespread that there should be more concerted effort,” Barrett says. “So this is kind of our, at least this piece of it, really high-impact, low-cost way of trying to educate and spread the word and make Lyme and tick-borne disease much more of a priority in our communities, both from the funding standpoint and from the policy development standpoint.”
Dr. Richard Horowitz is a prominent physician in the Lyme disease realm. He has been treating Lyme and other tick-borne infections for some 30 years and has a practice in Hyde Park.
“It’s absolutely essential that everyone at this point understands that we are in a full-blown epidemic, and I don’t use that word lightly,” Dr. Horowitz says.
Horowitz, who has authored a book on treating resistant Lyme, says since New York has one of the highest endemic Lyme disease rates in the country, raising awareness and advocating for more funding is important.
“If we don’t get more money for funding for both dragging for the ticks, for finding out the different infections and co-infections in the ticks, especially with the recent uptick in Powassan virus cases that we’ve seen in Dutchess County and in Saratoga County… I think the doctors need to know what’s in the ticks, they need to have education for the medical professionals as far as what are the most updated guidelines for both prevention, tick bites and treatment because right now we’re working on new guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases,” Dr. Horowitz says. “And we still have schools that are taking kids out into the woods without tick prevention, I mean, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that are going out into the woods and getting bit.”
Barrett, who represents portions of Columbia and Dutchess Counties, says the campaign is starting in winter to build momentum toward the spring and re-emergence of ticks, but also for another reason.
“The governor is about to introduce his budget,” Barrett says. “We’ve asked for some money in the state budget to include warning signs at state parks and DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] sites, including trailheads and campgrounds.”
To help spread the message, Barrett is announcing public forums at libraries across her Assembly district, and has formed an advisory board of experts from both the environmental and medical fields. Dr. Horowitz is part of the board.
“So this is sort of a model that I’m hoping that some of my colleagues, if they want to, can join in and put together an advisory board if they want, use some of the information that we’ve been developing and replicate it in other parts of the state,” Barrett says.
Dutchess County resident Pat Smalley is co-facilitator of the Mid-Hudson Lyme Disease Support Group in Pleasant Valley.
“Well, I think we need a lot of public education but we also have to educate the government, the insurance companies, the doctors,” Smalley says. “Everybody needs more education because nobody wants to pay for it.”
Again, Dr. Horowitz.
“I’ve seen over 12,000 cases of Lyme at this point in my medical office in the Hudson Valley, and we just see that it devastates people’s lives,” Dr. Horowitz says. “If we want to improve the care and health of New York state residents and, at the same time, try and keep down rising health-care costs, we can’t ignore the disabling effects that Lyme and tick-borne diseases are having on the New York state population.”
Barrett says a Facebook group will act as a central online community to share information about tick-borne diseases, local and community education, and new research in the field. The Facebook page will share “Reasons to #GetTickedOff,” to inspire the public to contact elected representatives with a call to action.
On the federal level, the Tick-Borne Disease Working Group met for the first time last week. The group was established by the 21st Century Cures Act to improve federal coordination of efforts related to tick-borne diseases. The Working Group expects to issue its first report to the Health and Human Services secretary and Congress by December 2018. Dr. Horowitz was named a member of the group, but spoke to WAMC outside of that role.