Lyme disease, the tick-borne illness which tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans contract every year now, isn’t normally fatal, though its symptoms can be debilitating and chronic if not diagnosed and treated promptly. Now Lyme has a relatively new and much more serious cousin, known as Powassan virus, and in the 15 identified cases statewide over the past nine years, one-third have proven fatal. That’s cause for concern — as well as a stepped-up effort by government to get the word out and promote research to prevent and treat tick-borne infections.
Such efforts would be bolstered by the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education and Research Act that New York Sen. Charles Schumer was promoting on a recent stopover. Its passage would be welcome news to residents of a region like ours, where disease-carrying ticks and the mice that transport them thrive except during the coldest winter months.
One of the biggest challenges with tick-borne illnesses remains diagnosis: The flu-like symptoms they cause — fatigue, joint pain and muscular aches — mimic those of a lot of viruses, and doctors don’t always think of Lyme when a patient reports having them. (Lyme’s telltale bull’s-eye rash only occurs about half the time.) And even though the state Health Department sends out seasonal advisories, it appears they’re not being read: Some health experts believe that for every case of Lyme that gets reported, 10 more don’t.
So the federal government — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has to ramp up its effort. That’s especially true now with global warming, as ticks that used to die off during winter’s hard freezes are now better able to survive.