By Jerry Carino the Asbury Park Press

USA Today Network – New Jersey

It’s called the “Tick Act,” and it would fuel the fight against Lyme disease and other tick- and vectorborne diseases to the tune of $180 million over six years.

But will this bill make it through Congress, despite bipartisan sponsorship in both houses?

“We have very strong advocates in Congress who will be fighting to get these monies through,” said Wall resident Pat Smith, a leading advocate for Lyme patients and member of the federal working group that helped craft the legislation. “It’s not going to be easy getting any kind of monies for Lyme disease.”

The House of Representatives bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican whose district includes parts of Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties, and Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota. The Senate version, which is identical, is co-sponsored by Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Angus King (I-Maine). Both measures were introduced in late May.

US Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) is shown with Pat Smith, Lyme Disease Association President , before a panel discussion about Lyme disease research held at the Wall Township Municipal building Wednesday, May 29, 2019.

“If they go as a standalone bill like they are now, one in each house, it’ll be harder to pass,” said Pat Smith, who is president of the national nonprofit Lyme Disease Association. “But if they possibly roll these bills into other bills, that would increase the chances.”

Federal inaction has been a longtime source of frustration for Lyme patients. Upward of 300,000 Lyme cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. More than half are children, and New Jersey is one of the hot spots.

For many who are diagnosed promptly, the standard month-long course of antibiotics mitigates the illness. But detection is difficult, and for some the symptoms continue for months or years.

The influential Infectious Diseases Society of America has declined to recognize chronic Lyme in its clinical practice guidelines, so sufferers are left to find a “Lyme-friendly” doctor, which is not easy.

“We’ve grossly and inadequately funded research, detection and prevention,” Chris Smith told the Asbury Park Press last week, prior to conducting a town hall on the subject in Wall.

The Tick Act seeks to address that through Centers for Disease Control grants totaling $120 million over six years (2021-26) to health departments in the most at-risk states.

“This would be significant,” Pat Smith said. “The states haven’t even been able to accurately count the disease. Their surveillance systems are horrendous; everybody has different reporting methods. On top of that, it would help with education about prevention, diagnosis and improving treatment.”

The Tick Act also would re-authorize funding for Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector Borne Disease at a total of $60 million over six years.

“If these bills do pass, one thing we want to insure is that an appropriate amount of money goes to tick-borne diseases,” Pat Smith said, noting that mosquito-driven diseases have gotten the lion’s share of past funding for vector- borne diseases. “Tick-borne diseases made up 77 percent of the vectorborne diseases from 2004-2016, and it’s only gotten worse.”

***Jerry Carino is news columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues.

***This article was published on Page 1 of the Wednesday, June 12, 2019 print edition of the Asbury Park Press, and can be found online at:
https://www.app.com/story/news/health/2019/06/11/lyme-disease-congress-pass-tick-act/1410038001/