The last of the snow is almost gone, and that means many more of us will soon be turning in our cross-country skis and snowshoes for hiking boots.
And that means many more of us will be exposed to the ticks that transmit Lyme disease and other related illnesses.
While we all can and should take precautions to reduce exposure, the state Legislature also has a role in helping identify, treat and educate the public about the threat.
One step the Legislature can take this week as it’s negotiating the state budget for next year is including $1 million in the spending plan for more research, treatment and prevention efforts.
New York has among the most tick-related illnesses in the country, with about 9,000 cases of Lyme and other tick-related illnesses reported every year.
Disease-carrying ticks, once largely concentrated in the Hudson Valley area, are now being found at higher elevations in the Catskills and Adirondacks.
Last year, at the urging of a special task force on Lyme disease, lawmakers included $1 million in the state budget for research, treatment and education.
Since 2015, New York has dedicated a total of $2 million to combat it. But that’s only a drop in the bucket.
Without presence of the task force putting direct pressure on lawmakers, there’s a threat that the need for more funding will be overlooked as legislators look to fund other projects.
Funding is desperately needed for research into how to identify Lyme disease, how to prevent it through individual prevention by treating clothing and laws, and through biological treatment of other areas likely to harbor ticks.
Funding is already paying dividends. A portion of the $1 million allocated last year, for instance, was used for a study that found Powassan, a potentially lethal tick-borne illness, is more widespread than officials had thought.
The state Senate has included the $1 million in its budget bill (S1503). But with time winding down on budget negotiations, it’s vital that both houses of the Legislature get on board.
After they’re done with the budget negotiations, they’ve still got work to do.
Several important pieces of legislation need to be passed before the end of the legislative session in June, including bills to support grants for graduate medical education (S1247), creating a pilot program for testing in children (S1306), establishing requirements for reporting Lyme-related diseases after death (S1307) and requiring health insurers to provide coverage for long-term medical care (A178A).
But the Legislature’s first priority needs to be to secure funding to continue its efforts to combat the scourge of ticks and tick-related illnesses.