With the Polar Vortex upon us and the Ebola scare closer in the rearview mirror than it appears, right now might seem like an odd time to be talking about Lyme disease.
But the governor and the state Legislature will return to Albany soon, and on their desks is a bill that could help treat this terrible, growing tick-borne illness.
The legislation, entitled the Patients’ Rights/Doctor Protection bill (S.7854/A.7558B), would enable doctors to use effective forms of long-term treatment on patients with Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses without fear of being charged with professional misconduct or loss of medical license.
We're not talking about turning our backs on legitimate medical science and allowing any quack to invent his own treatment for the disease.
We're talking about allowing government regulators to be flexible when doctors employ new, long-term antibiotic treatments to care for patients suffering from pain and chronic health problems due to long bouts with it.
The medical community is particularly wary of long-term antibiotic treatments. But such long-term treatment is sometimes necessary to fight stubborn cases of Lyme disease where short doses of antibiotics haven’t worked.
The reason we should care about this bill is because Lyme disease is growing at epidemic levels. There are more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, and New York has among the highest rates in the country.
The epicenter for the state is the Mid-Hudson Valley area. But cases also are prevalent in our area. In 2011, according to a Gazette report in 2013, Schenectady County reported 79 cases of Lyme Disease; Schoharie County, 29; Saratoga County, 525; Rensselaer County, 656; Montgomery County, 30; Fulton County, 8; and Albany County, 364.
The number of confirmed cases has grown exponentially during the past two decades and is expected to continue to grow at an alarming rate.
And just because it's getting cold out doesn't mean the threat is over. While they're generally active during the spring and summer, disease-spreading ticks can still be prevalent through Thanksgiving and can even be a threat in winter.
The state and individual counties have information about ticks and Lyme Disease on their websites. so visit them for more information about how to prevent, identify and treat the disease.
But for people who already suffer from it, and for whom short-term antibiotic treatments didn't cure them, it's imperative that the state give them relief.
The bill has already passed both houses of the Legislature. The governor now needs to sign it and let doctors do what's necessary.