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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

State Task Force Releases Lyme Disease Prevention Strategy

Lennart Tange

A 20-member task force of health and research professionals released a report last week on Lyme and related tick-borne diseases to help guide the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the General Assembly's strategy in addressing the growing issue. 

The task force was created a year ago as Lyme disease has become so prevalent in the commonwealth leading the nation with 7,457 cases recorded in 2014, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that number could have been much higher.

The Department of Environmental Protection confirmed this year that the carrier of the disease, black-legged ticks, were found in all 67 counties of the state.  

Prevention recommendations include personal protection such as repellant, tick and host targeted removal strategies and pharmacological measures such as antibiotics. The task force recommends developing prevention and funding strategies for schools located in high-risk areas and improving surveillance and data collection of tick-borne diseases.

The 60-page report outlines the economic impact of tick-borne diseases including more than a billion in annual medical expenses in the United States. Lyme disease patients require 87 percent more visits to the doctor, according to the report, resulting in $10,000 per patient lost annually in productivity.

Local state Senators are calling for action.

“I think what we as Senators have to dedicate ourselves to as well as the house is making sure the recommendations of this report become a reality within the commonwealth and it doesn’t sit on a shelf like report after report in the commonwealth has,” said Senator Andy Dinniman of Chester County.

Much of the report pushes for awareness programs. Task force members want federal, state and local park staff to communicate the risks to park visitors. They also want to publish an informational brochure for physicians to give to patients when they are screened for Lyme disease.

Senator Sean Wiley of Erie County said educating constituents on the report’s findings is important. Wiley spoke at a press conference last week about a 16-year-old who contracted Lyme disease while playing soccer and now requires the use of a wheelchair.  

“When this disease goes unnoticed or misdiagnosed it leads to tragic situations,” he said.