Lyme bill signing in Harrisburg
On Oct. 6, Governor Corbett held a public signing of Senate Bill177, The Lyme and Related Tick-Borne Disease Surveillance, Education, Prevention Act.
SB177 was passed in June after more than 20 years of advocacy. LymeActionPA, chaired by Julia Wagner of Lower Gwynedd, formed a coalition of more than 15 patient groups across the state, working for more than eight years alongside Senator Stewart Greenleaf to address the Lyme epidemic in Pennsylvania. Last year, the CDC published results increasing the actual number of Lyme cases per year from 30,000 to 300,000. This means, in Pennsylvania, the 7,387 cases reported in 2013 are really 73,870 new cases each year. Up to one-third of new cases may result in persistent disease, found to impact quality of life more than congestive heart failure.
All Pennsylvanians are at risk for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. For children, the disease can prove devastating if undiagnosed - with less commonly recognized neuro-cognitive symptoms taking a significant toll: short-term memory issues, lowered IQ, ADD/ADHD, autism-like symptoms, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression, along with the more common symptoms of fatigue, muscle aches and pains, joint issues, and heart block. Seniors dealing with impaired memory and arthritic pain may not recognize these symptoms as a potentially treatable case of Lyme disease.
Undiagnosed Lyme disease can progress to more difficult to treat, and more serious cases, with potential to significantly reduce quality of life.
The new law includes a Tick Surveillance Program that will be a first in the state. New Jersey, Delaware and New York are all considered endemic for Babesiosis and require reporting to the CDC. A Pennsylvania University lab has found Babesiosis, Bartonella, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichia, and Borrelia miyamotoi in Pennsylvania ticks. With surveillance, this information will be reported to medical institutions and the public.
The law also provides for educational access for affected schoolchildren. There will be immediate changes to education rules that will add chronic Lyme and tick-borne diseases as covered conditions for accommodations. There will be a prevention focus in the schools. Schools will take on a role in informing parents and authorities of tick attachments, and will see that prevention steps are taken. There will also be a new task force comprised of doctors, patients, and others that will develop recommendations to be implemented within a year.