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Casey Pushes for Increase in Lyme Disease Awareness

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 27,203 cases of Lyme disease nationwide, 4,981 of which were in Pennsylvania. And, for the last five years, Pennsylvania has reported more cases of Lyme disease than any other state.

As temperatures rise and people begin to spend more time outdoors, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) is calling for an increase in federal surveillance.

“It’s important to raise awareness among people in our state about the risk posed by tick-borne diseases and to make sure that everyone’s aware of the federal resources available to help prevent tick bites,” Casey said.

The senator’s website now contains a section on Lyme disease, offering information on how to stop the spread of Lyme disease, including wearing long clothing, checking your body for ticks and wearing repellent.

The disease is spread by blacklegged (deer) ticks carrying the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and can cause symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue and distinctive skin rash. If left untreated, infections can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

With such common symptoms, Casey said many Lyme disease cases go unreported or even misdiagnosed.

“We just have to make sure that, when people are experiencing those kind of symptoms, they put this as one item on their checklist after they consider whether it’s a flu or otherwise,” he said. “And obviously the best way to make that determination is to go to the doctor.”

According to a 2013 report by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, there were 48 cases of Lyme disease reported in Allegheny County between 2009 and 2011. In 2013, there were 145 cases in the county.

Environmental scientists believe tick populations are booming because of increased environmental protection efforts in the state.

With deer ticks now found in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, Casey said federal institutions, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, need to receive increased funding to study and combat endemic diseases.

“The best thing is to work with the CDC to provide information and engage in research and analysis,” he said.

Casey said last year’s fear that the West African Ebola outbreak could have spread to the United States exposed weaknesses in the American public health system’s preparedness to fight endemic diseases.

“It’s a massive federal government failure when we’re losing our edge because folks in Washington think it’s better to cut NIH than to cut some other programs,” Casey said.

According to Casey, NIH funding has dropped about 25 percent in the last decade.

Casey did not say how much additional funding would be needed to properly prepare the CDC or NIH.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."