Maine Sen. Susan Collins on Thursday introduced a bill that would devote more than $100 million in new federal spending to combat Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Collins said in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday that Lyme disease has ballooned into a public health threat that needs a comprehensive federal response. If the bill becomes law, it would be the highest amount of federal spending ever approved for tick-borne diseases, Collins’ office said. The TICK Act was introduced with Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, and co-sponsored by independent Sen. Angus King of Maine.

“Tick-borne diseases have become a major public health concern with the incidence exploding over the past 15 years,” Collins said. “These diseases present grave risks to our public health and serious harm to our families and communities. The sooner we acknowledge these risks and coordinate our effort to overcome them, the better for all of us.”

Maine had 1,370 reported cases of Lyme in 2018, a drop from the record 1,852 cases in 2017, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said. The decrease was the first year-over-year decline since 2015, and scientists say was possibly caused by recent hot and dry summers. Most years since 2011 the number of Lyme cases has climbed, and is much higher than the few hundred cases per year in the early- to mid-2000s.

Nationally, about 30,000 diagnosed cases of Lyme are reported each year, although the U.S. CDC estimates that the actual number is roughly 10 times higher –  300,000 to 350,000 Lyme cases per year – because many people who are infected do not get tested or are tested but the results are not reported to state agencies. Most of the Lyme cases are concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.

The TICK Act would have the U.S. CDC award grants totaling $20 million per year through 2026 for “data collection and analysis, support early detection and diagnosis, improve treatment, and raise awareness.”

The bill also would create an Office of Oversight and Coordination for Vector-Borne Disease at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and re-authorize Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease for an additional five years, funded at $10 million per year.

“We need a coordinated and aggressive response from all levels of government and the private sector to make a dent in the rapid rise of this disease,” King said in a written statement.

Other tick-borne diseases in Maine – also transmitted by the deer tick – include anaplasmosis and babesiosis. There were 476 anaplasmosis cases in Maine in 2018, and 101 cases of babesiosis.

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