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a number of adults tested complained of arthritic symptoms, a class-action lawsuit was filed, and the vaccine was withdrawn in 2002.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.
Plotkin wants the Food and Drug Administration to test new vaccines under development and wants the public to demand a new vaccine to prevent Lyme disease.
But Schumer and Plotkin are living in a world in which Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to shut down the government — ending such federal duties as public warnings about disease and approval of new vaccines — rather than funding the new health-insurance law set to take effect in October.
Newt Gingrich once succeeded in shutting down the government when he was speaker of the House; it did not work out well for Republicans. They apparently don’t remember.
Americans have a litany of legitimate complaints about government these days, especially because of the politics of division that causes infuriating stalemates in Washington, preventing hundreds of actions that need to be taken. But a government shutdown, even for a few days, would cause incredible inconvenience and financial chaos for millions. Someone described it as burning down the house to get rid of mice.
It is easy to forget how much we need the government. In a New Orleans suburb right now, a deadly brain-eating amoeba in the drinking water is causing panic; the government has been quick to respond. The devastating floods in Colorado have wiped out roads and bridges; the government will rebuild. The mentally ill gunman who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard was stopped by government agents before he could kill more. Millions are getting government-paid health care they otherwise couldn’t afford.
I can see the buck now, brushing against the fence, perilously close to the car. A doe ambles alongside him. Oh goodie, more deer next year.
As for preventing Lyme disease, the government advises wearing socks, long pants, long sleeves, a hat and gloves outside. It is 85 degrees.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered national politics and the White House since 1986. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.