U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced on Sept. 22 that a Senate panel has given preliminary approval for $200,000 for the Vector Ecology Laboratory at Fordham University’s Louis Calder Center for Environmental and Conservation Biology Field Research in Armonk, New York. The lab researches insect-borne diseases including Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus.
“We are immensely grateful to Senator Schumer for his support of this funding, which enables Fordham to continue its tradition of conducting research that directly benefits the people of New York and the entire nation,” Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President of Fordham University.
The news came as the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2005 Veterans Affairs – Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) Appropriations bill late Tuesday night. With its passage by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill will now be sent to the Senate floor. The bill must then go into conference with the House version before its final approval by Congress.
“The last thing parents should have to worry about when their kids play in the backyard is that they’ll contract Lyme Disease from ticks they may not even be able to see on their child’s skin,” Schumer said. “We need to start funding the research and technology needed to better diagnose Lyme Disease and we need to train residents throughout the region to look for the warning signs of this horrible disease.”
“New York is on the front lines with respect to vector-borne diseases in the United States. At the same time, funding for research on Lyme disease and West Nile virus has been declining steadily,” said Thomas J. Daniels, Ph.D., a vector ecologist at the Fordham’s Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station. “This funding would be a tremendous step in advancing research on the ecology and prevention of tick and mosquito-borne diseases. It will also allow us to continue our service to the community, which is a hallmark of the Jesuit tradition.”
Lyme Disease, which is spread through ticks the size of a pin point, is on the rise throughout the United States. The official number of Lyme Disease cases nationwide rose from 17,029 in 2001 to 23,763 in 2002, a jump of 40% according to the CDC. Lyme Disease is found in 49 states, but approximately 95% of reported cases are from Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. The disease is most prevalent in suburban and rural communities in the Northeast such as Hartsdale. The Hudson Valley now has the highest incidence of Lyme Disease in the country and the rate of reported cases in Westchester and Rockland County has nearly doubled, increasing from 340 to 624 in Westchester from 2002 to 2003 and 124 to 169 in Rockland during the same period.
Lyme Disease, though highly curable if it is detected in its early stages, is difficult to diagnose as its symptoms are similar to the common flu. The “bulls eye” rash that accompanies infection of the disease at the site of the tick bite appears in only some cases, and even when it exists may go undetected, especially on darker skin tones. In addition, medical authorities disagree over how to treat the illness, particularly when it persists after short-term antibiotic treatment.
Earlier this month, Schumer visited Hart’s Brook Park and Preserve in Hartsdale, and stood with scientists from the Calder Center and representatives from national and regional Lyme Disease advocacy groups to call for federal action to protect New Yorkers from the disease. He unveiled a three-point plan:
* $10 million in additional funding for Lyme Disease research and prevention: Lyme Disease is the most prevalent vector-borne disease, accounting for 90% of reported cases, yet it receives a small fraction of CDC and NIH spending on those illnesses. Schumer wrote a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Labor/Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee urging them to increase funding for Lyme Disease prevention and research programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $7 million and at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by $3 million. The increased funding would be used to fund several initiatives including the development of a test to determine who is infected; research into expanded treatment options; investigation into ways to identify habitats of greatest risk; broader prevention strategies including biological and chemical controls to halt the spread of the tick; and education of the public and physicians, particularly in places where tick-borne diseases are emerging.
* A new federal Tick-Borne Disorders Advisory Committee: Schumer is co-sponsoring legislation (S-1527) that would create the Tick-Borne Disorders Advisory Committee within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Committee would serve to monitor trends in the spreading of Lyme Disease and coordinate local and national efforts to combat the disease. The Committee would compile local and state data to improve information about the disease.
* Targeted educational campaign: Schumer is also urged the CDC to launch an awareness campaign educating susceptible people to the hazards of Lyme Disease and how to avoid it. The campaign would work with communities afflicted by the disease such as Westchester and Rockland counties and especially target communities where the disease is emerging as a threat. Advertising as well as educational programs for schools and community groups would be used and all information provided would be bilingual so that the message reaches the maximum audience.