Sen. Susan Collins hosted a Senate field hearing Thursday at the University of Maine’s “tick lab” in Orono to promote a bill that would boost federal funding to fight Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

The TICK Act, sponsored by the Maine Republican and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, would devote $100 million in federal funding, to be doled out at $20 million per year through 2026 for data collection and analysis to support early detection, diagnosis and treatment, and to raise awareness.

“Our approach to tick-borne disease and Lyme disease is very fragmented today,” Collins said at the field hearing of the Senate Aging Committee. “We’re seeking to ultimately halt the progression of Lyme disease.”

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

In 2019, there have been 462 Lyme cases through Sept. 4, tracking far lower than last year. However, ticks have been reported in large numbers this summer and there may be a reporting lag, experts have said, so Lyme case numbers could rebound this fall.

Other tick-borne diseases are also being seen in greater numbers in Maine, such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Nationally, about 30,000 diagnosed cases of Lyme are reported each year, although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the actual number is roughly 10 times higher – 300,000 to 350,000 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 Lyme cases occur in the Northeast and Midwest.

The deer tick’s range has expanded in recent decades – scientists say climate change may be playing a role – and in Maine Lyme’s reach has gone from coastal areas to points inland and north.

Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne diseases with the U.S. CDC, told people at the hearing that there is an “urgent need to try to figure out how to better control these tick-borne diseases.”

“We don’t have a unified strategy to control these ticks,” Petersen said. “We need a concerted effort by state, local, federal and private institutions, working together to find solutions to this growing problem.”

If approved, the TICK Act would be the first large-scale national effort to combat Lyme disease.

Two Mainers who have suffered from Lyme disease, Paula Jackson Jones of Nobleboro and Chris Philbrook of Cumberland, shared their personal stories at the hearing. Philbrook, a former Collins staff member, described a long, painful ordeal from contracting Lyme, including Bell’s palsy, a condition where one side of the face becomes weak, causing it to droop or become stiff.

Common symptoms of Lyme include rashes, joint pain and swelling, headaches and neck stiffness and rashes. If caught early, Lyme can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

 

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