Schumer To Feds: Get Serious About Preventing More Lyme/Powassan Disease

Written on 08/09/2017

Standing at Cloves Lake Park, one of 13 tick surveillance locations on Staten Island, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today urged, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to double-down on efforts to fully implement new laws, passed by Congress last year, that will significantly increase research, vaccine development and treatment strategies to help stamp out tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. As of May, Staten Island University Hospital had already treated 90 tick bites this year. Schumer said any delay in federal action will allow newly emerging disease like Powassan, which is even deadlier than Lyme disease, to impact already highly vulnerable areas like Staten Island.


Schumer was joined by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, Assemblyman Michael Cusick, Staten Island professionals with Lyme Disease and Dr. Jordan Glaser, Director of Infectious Disease at Staten Island University Hospital.


“The reality is the Feds now have the tools to begin stamping out diseases like Powassan Virus and Lyme disease, but they’re still dragging their feet, even though more and more New Yorkers are being infected with horrible tick-borne diseases,” said Senator Schumer. “The threat of tick-borne diseases is very real on Staten  Island so it is imperative that we do all that we can to halt the continued spread every single summer. That’s why I am urging HHS Secretary Tom Price to quickly implement the already-passed legislation within the 21st Century Cures Act, to ensure that we are making a sufficient attempt at ridding ourselves of these chronic diseases. There is no more time to waste, and HHS must step up their game.” 


Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks, which can be transmitted by a bite to a human or animal host. If left untreated, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferiwill travel through the bloodstream, manifest itself in body tissues, and cause mild or severe symptoms, depending on the case. Lyme disease begins as a rash at the location of the tick bite, and then spreads to the nervous system and joints. Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment is crucial, as it is with many other types of disease and cancer. With early diagnosis, Lyme disease is cured almost 100% of the time. The disease is most prevalent on the Upper East Coast, and Midwest, especially in densely wooded areas with an aptitude for humidity.


Lyme disease is extremely prevalent in the 5 boroughs, with 8,000+ cases over the past 15 years. According to the New York City Department of Health, there were 123 Lyme disease infections on Staten Island last year and 121 Lyme Disease infections in 2015. According to Staten Island University Hospital, in 2015 there were 8 reported cases in Port Richmond; 22 reported cases in Stapleton-St.George; 22 reported cases in Willowbrook; and 69 reported cases in South Beach- Tottenville. 


This past May, two pre-K students at Staten Island’s PS 36 in Annadale were found with ticks embedded on their skin after playing near a grassy area on school property.


According to the New York City Department of Health:



2016 Lyme Disease Infections

2015 Lyme Disease Infections

Staten Island

















Another disease, transmitted like Lyme, is called Powassan Virus (POW). After the initial bite, the disease usually takes one week to one month to reveal itself. It cannot be transmitted human to human. People with the disease need to be hospitalized as soon as possible and immediately put on to respiratory support and IV fluids. Minor or massive brain swelling may also occur. No vaccines or specific treatments currently exist for POW, however there are methods for prevention. These include: staying out of wooded or bushy areas that contain high grass, the use of insect repellent/DEET, a bath or shower within 2 hours of being in a wooded area, and full-body tick checks for both yourself and any pet that may have travelled with you.


There have been approximately 75 cases of POW in the last decade, 16 of which were in New York.  According to the New York City Department of Health, tick surveillance in 2016 for the first time included testing ticks for POAW and a single positive tick was collected in the Bronx. According to a 2013 study by Dupuis et al, the deer tick virus, a genetically and ecologically distinct lineage of POW virus, was identified each year from 2007 to 2012, in nymphal and adult l.scapularis collected from the Hudson Valley. 58 tick pools were positive for virus and/or RNA Infection rates were higher in adult ticks collected from areas east of the Hudson River. Earlier this year, a fisherman from Gansevoort tragically died as a result of Powassan. Test results from the hospital came back negative for Lyme but subsequent testing revealed Powassan.


Schumer explained that the passed legislation aims to continue to research methods for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases, including Lyme. In addition, the bill establishes a working group to make recommendations on existing programs and research and to prepare a report summarizing these recommendations as well as current federal research efforts related to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. Ultimately, the bill aims to research, identify and treat the disease as well as launch a national response to significantly enhance the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Under the bill, HHS must coordinate federal activities related to tick-borne diseases and conduct or support activities related to tick-borne diseases, including:

·         Surveillance,

·         Research on strategies for the control of ticks,

·         Exploring causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of tick-borne diseases,

·         Epidemiological research, and

·         Determining the gaps in existing research.

Schumer made this push as the CDC and other tick-borne disease experts predicted that this summer could be one of the worst when it comes to the population of ticks.


Schumer has long pushed for federal funding for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme, which has seen an increase in cases across New York State. In 2015, Schumer pushed for legislation to boost the federal government’s ability to research, identify and treat the disease as well as launch a national response to significantly enhance the HHS’ ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Additionally, in 2013, Schumer called on the CDC to immediately allocate resources towards the study, prevention, and treatment of Lyme and the emerging POW virus threat in New York. Last year, Schumer successfully pushed to pass this bill; however, its language has not yet been totally enacted.