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Linking legislation and Lyme disease

We live in a Lyme disease hot spot. Ticks are as prevalent in the Hudson Valley as they are anywhere else in the world, with Lyme disease being “the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere,” according to www.sciencemag.org. Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses plague those living and visiting this beautiful neck of the woods — and there have long been efforts to stave off its deleterious impact on the region and its inhabitants.

Evidence of such attempts can be seen in the massive amount of legislation that has passed through local, state and national government over the years. Right now, even, state lawmakers are working on an assortment of bills to try to improve tick awareness and strengthen prevention, diagnoses and treatment options.

The question is, does legislation help? Can lawmakers make a dent where doctors can’t? 

Certainly, those in the medical profession have done their best to address the epidemic — and they’re making great strides. Education about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is widely available. Preventative measures are well publicized. Diagnoses, while tricky, is improved, as Lyme and its ilk are now on doctors’ radars more than ever before. And treatment options, which can be challenging and controversial, are available for those suffering from such illnesses to consider and adopt. Yet more research remains to be done.

The fight against these infinitesimal, creepy-crawly and devastating little creatures is an uphill battle. And it’s one that government is trying to join.

In June, the New York State Senate approved a resolution to invest $1 million in support of the Senate’s Tick Task Force and its efforts to increase education, research, prevention and treatment options and combat the increase in tick-borne diseases in the Empire State.

We know the gargantuan effort it sometimes takes to put pen to paper, getting legislation signed and adopted. It’s not easy. Getting that legislation to then coordinate with care is even tougher.

But we should look upon our lawmakers as making the best of a bad situation. They know, as well as anyone, that residents of and visitors to our lush landscape are constantly in danger of contracting Lyme or any other tick-borne disease (ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, etc.). Yet they have to protect both constituents and the reputation of the region — dependent on tourism dollars that can disappear quickly if people are too afraid to spend time in our tick-infested valley. 

Again, no small feat. 

With help from medical professionals, and research organizations like the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, we are seeing progress. Though a day when Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are no longer a concern might still be far off, more people are aware of these illnesses than ever before. With knowledge comes power.

And that’s the gist behind the legislation: Eradicate tick-borne diseases by increasing awareness, prevention and treatment. 

To learn how the written word can make a difference, read Kaitlin Lyle’s front-page story on how New York is combating Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses through legislation. And for more information on how to stay tick-free, go to www.dutchesscounty.ny.gov/ticks.