, Salem, MA


September 24, 2013

Column: Lyme disease's spread calls for government action

An eight-point buck lives in our very urban Maryland neighborhood, decimating the hostas, nibbling young evergreens, trampling “deer-resistant” plants and, probably, spreading disease. Sometimes, he dines alone; often, he’s accompanied by relatives who pay no mind to nearby humans.

At least two neighbors have come down with serious cases of Lyme disease spread by deer ticks. If you call a doctor with sudden unexplained symptoms such as rash, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain or arthritis, you are likely to get a test for Lyme disease without asking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has an estimated 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, 10 times the number reported. Death is rare, but the disease can cause debilitating complications.

New York City has evidence of ticks in city parks. There’s a new, even more dangerous tick-borne disease in upstate New York called Powassan virus that apparently kills up to 30 percent of the people infected.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is asking for more attention and money from the federal government to warn people about ticks and find a solution to this growing health threat, especially because it is extremely easy to be bitten and infected and not know it.

Stanley Plotkin, an emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote in The New York Times that his 39-year-old son almost died of Lyme disease. A quick-thinking doctor infused him with antibiotics, installed a pacemaker and saved his life. In the Northeast, Upper Midwest and parts of California, almost everyone knows of someone who was sick for weeks or months after being bitten by an infected tick.

Plotkin is campaigning to bring back a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease, such as one developed in 1998 but never enthusiastically supported by the CDC. The manufacturer put it on the market before it was tested on children, a number of adults tested complained of arthritic symptoms, a class-action lawsuit was filed, and the vaccine was withdrawn in 2002. Now only dogs get vaccinated.

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