Kay Hagan didn’t get out in public much in recent months.
In June, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina helped dedicate a new air traffic control tower at a local airport.
Crippled and confined to a wheelchair, she smiled and acknowledged well wishers at the event. Her ability to speak was limited, slow and labored, although her husband Chip said she could comprehend what people were saying.
On Oct. 28, the 66-year-old lawmaker died, two years after contracting a brain inflammation from the Powassan virus, a rare but increasingly prevalent disease caused by the bite of an infected tick.
In her honor, her colleagues in the U.S. Senate have named a new bill after her that’s aimed at fighting tick-related illnesses, including Lyme disease.
In 2017, the number of tick-borne diseases reported to U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) rose 22%, to 59,349. The actual number of cases was likely much closer to 300,000 to 400,000, officials say, due to underreporting. Here in New York, the state saw a 16% increase in tick-related illnesses from 2017 to 2018.
As such illnesses have increased in recent years, it’s clear the state and federal governments need to devote more attention and resources to identifying them, treating them and preventing them.
The Kay Hagan Tick Act (S1657) and its companion bill in the House of Representatives, the TICK (Ticks: Identify, Control, and Knockout) Act (HR3073), are designed to provide federal assistance to address the escalating burden.
Among the bill’s provisions are the creation of an office of oversight and coordination at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategy for the expansion of research, improved testing and affordable treatment.
For taxpayers, the bill comes at a relatively small price, given that Lyme disease alone now costs Americans an estimated $75 billion per year, according to lymedisease.org.
The bill would provide $10 million a year for the next five years to create regional centers for excellence. These centers would coordinate efforts among academia and public health agencies for surveillance, prevention and outbreak response, as well as provide training and other services to help pubic officials deal with the outbreak.
The bill also would authorize $20 million per year for the next five years through the CDC for grants to help states and communities promote awareness, early detection and treatment.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are now a national problem.
It’s time for the national government to lead the fight against them.
Contact Schumer, Gillibrand and other members of Congress to ensure they support and promote this vital legislation.