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Schumer Targets Deadly Powassan Virus In Albany Visit

Once infected with Lyme disease himself, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer was in Albany today to urge the federal government to continue the battle against insect-borne diseases.

Speaking at Albany Medical Center, Schumer called tick-borne diseases one of the greatest dangers that we face now... he cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which detailed 288 cases of Lyme disease in Albany County and 8,272 across New York state in 2015.   "It happened to me. I was inspecting dams in the Hudson Valley. Several years ago. But I was educated. And I knew that this telltale bullseye that was on my calf might be trouble. I pulled the little tick off, put it in a plastic bag, and went the next day to the doctor. Sure enough, I had Lyme disease."

The Democrat received immediate treatment and was cured. He says almost everyone knows somebody who has had Lyme that was misdiagnosed — underscoring the need for early detection.  He noted that deer ticks are linked to Powassan virus, which is deadlier than Lyme. He pointed to the case of one of his colleagues, former North Carolina U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.   "She couldn't walk or talk or do anything. And for six months, the best hospitals, they couldn't diagnose it. Finally they found that it's Powassan. She's just gradually learning now to recognize people and get up out of a chair."

Schumer went on to call tick-borne diseases one of the greatest dangers facing upstate New Yorkers. The purpose of the visit was to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  to double-down on efforts to fully implement new laws, passed by Congress last year, that Schumer’s office says will significantly increase research, vaccine development and treatment.   "In 2016, the first two cases were diagnosed of Powassan, this year another three cases in Albany, Warren and Rensselaer counties."

Catherine Duncan is the Public Health Director in Saratoga County, where three recent cases of Powassan have been documented. One person died.  "These particular infections are so preventable if you do the right steps. If you make sure that you're following everything that the CDC recommends with regard to protecting yourself. And we do appreciate that additional research will hopefully be down the way for us."

Schumer vowed to use every means at his disposal to get the federal government to aggressively implement the new laws.

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 law aims 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.

Under this law, 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 Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other tick-borne disease experts predict that this summer could be one of the worst when it comes to the population of ticks.

In a related news story, "Ticks to go under NY legislative microscope," AP reports***  "Two New York state senators say they want to know if the state is doing all it can to confront tick-borne illnesses.

Republicans Sue Serino and Kemp Hannon say they plan to call hearings later this summer to focus on the state's response to illnesses like Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Powassan virus.

The senators say new cases of Lyme disease are being found throughout the state and note that a 74-year-old man died this year in Saratoga County after contracting Powassan virus.

The lawmakers say they want to hear from health and environmental experts about ways the state can boost its efforts to prevent infections and help those dealing with the illnesses.

The hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 29."

***Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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