Report urges more education, reporting and testing for Lyme disease

Mar 1st, 2013 By Cole Chapman, The Metro West Daily News

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BOSTON — The commission on Lyme disease released its report on the tick-borne illness Thursday, recommending greater efforts to educate the public, improve disease reporting and testing along with mandated insurance coverage for treatment.

“We need to educate members of the medical profession… in recognizing the prevalence of Lyme disease and knowing that there are treatment options out there,” said commission chairman Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick. “You would be amazed at the lack of understanding of a lot of physicians and people in the medical community.”

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick. Common symptoms are similar to the flu, with fever, aches and pains. But the disease can cause long-term problems, including a form of arthritis and even heart disease.

Linksy said the report was made “to ensure that the Lyme disease epidemic, and it is an epidemic, is controlled so future infections can be prevented.”

The commission found that incidents of the disease may be under reported, noting that although the Massachusetts Department of Health found 12,000 to 14,000 people tested positive for Lyme, the department estimates that number could potentially be five to 10 times that number.

Dr. Barbara Roth-Schechter, a commission member and public health official, said the question about reporting suggests the disease is reaching epidemic levels.

“Any physician who diagnoses Lyme disease should report it,” she said. “Of the data we have, not all physicians do… therefore we believe that the epidemic, or whatever you’d like to call it… is even larger than what it says in the report.”

The commission consisted of 20 other members, including senators to practitioners and advocates. The commission is done with its side of the work and is now awaiting legislation and budgeting of funds to move forward with preventative measures, better treatment plans, and increased disease surveillance.

Rep. Theodore C. Speliotis, D-Danvers, has filed “An Act relative to Lyme disease treatment coverage” that calls for mandatory insurance coverage of Lyme disease-related expenses. The bill has 37 co-signers.

The “environmental intervention” measures in the report that require more examination include using pesticides to spray for ticks, using controlled burns and brush clearing to “reduce [habitats] favoring deer ticks,” increasing deer-proof fencing, implementing gravel perimeters around school properties, and requesting MassWildlife to “study the costs and benefits of expanded access to crossbow hunting” for deer.

While locations with large deer populations are likely to have more ticks than others, Joanne Martel, another member on the commission, said the problem could not be narrowed to a few specific areas.

“People [with Lyme disease] are not identified by where they live. … I could vacation in the Cape and come back to my hometown and my report would show up in my town. … It’s very hard to pin geographically, so you don’t want to get too caught up in that,” said Martel

Legislators within the commission, such as Linsky, are now seeking to find a spot in the state budget to fund the initiatives in the report.

“The DPH doesn’t like to ask for more money from the state,” said Linsky. “That’s what I’m for.”

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