Battling Lyme disease with the force
With the rising numbers of Lyme disease cases in Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Virginia Secretary William Hazel set up a task force in November 2010 to study and recommend what needs to be done. Mike Farris, chairman of the governor’s task force and 11 other appointed members met June 30 at the Loudoun County Government Center and unanimously passed a final recommendation to give to McDonnell.
The task force was to study the areas of diagnosis, treatment, prevention, the impact on children and public education.
“Encouraging it doesn’t mean that the Virginia government needs to buy it,” Farris said. “We can encourage it in a variety of ways but it doesn’t mean the Virginia government needs to fund it – we can privately fund it.”
About two dozen Loudoun County residents showed up to the task force’s recommendation hearing. The group met first in Purcellville Nov. 30, 2010 and then held five hearings in Virginia Beach, Richmond, Roanoke, Springfield and Harrisonburg.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are affecting growing numbers of people in Virginia, according to the final draft report the task force drew up. And it’s not in particular areas of Virginia, according to the task force. Infected ticks are traveling throughout the state.
Lyme is caused by a “spirachete bacterium in the same family as syphilis and it can invade multiple organs systems and has a variable multistage progression with a tremendous range of symptoms.”
According to the force, the mandatory reporting of Lyme cases has gone unreported to the Virginia Department of Health or have been overlooked.
Farris and other members of the task force recommended requiring the cooperation of everyone in Virginia, from businesses to the government to those who have Lyme disease.
“Basically [it’s to] encourage physicians to go above and beyond what VDH is recommending because it’s an evolving disease,” Kathy Meyer, co-organizer of Parents of Children with Lyme Support Network said.
Acknowledgment is one of the top priorities that the task force is trying to convey to medical authorities. The recommendation stated that some Virginia medical community members refuse to consider a diagnosis of Lyme and related illnesses.
Some members of the Virginia medical community say we do not have Lyme in Virginia or it’s not in this “part of Virginia,” according to the task force.
The recommendation also noted that the VHD should provide information to clinicians on Lyme and to make it a clinician’s responsibility to report Lyme cases.
The task force addressed treatment options, cures and how the state should be testing for Lyme. But, according to the task force “there is no serological test that can tell a medical provider when a patient has been cured of Lyme” and “there is no scientific basis for concluding that 30 days or less of antibiotics cures every case of Lyme disease.”
Members of the task force spoke with people suffering from the disease who said that with long-term antibiotics, their cases of Lyme were successf ully treated.
The task force reported public concerns that some insurance carriers are not covering the treatment and expenses. According to task force reports, patients can spend thousands of dollars a month for their treatment. The task force recommended that the Bureau of Insurance take up the issue of insurance covering expenses incurred from Lyme.
Public education and prevention
The task force made public education and prevention a big goal in recommendations to the governor. The health department and other state and local agencies should place greater emphasis on the public’s education through radio, television and other media, according to the report.
Farris and other members also recommended that McDonnell establish a group under the Secretary for Natural Resources along with the Secretary of Health and Human Resources in order to find strategies to control deer and tick populations. This new group, the task force says, should be included in funding decisions for the 2012 Virginia Budget.
Some prevention practices include landscaping efforts in homeowners’ yards to prevent deer and mice from entering. This can be done through deer control methods like expanding the duration of hunting season and raising the limits on how many deer each hunter is allowed to kill.
Ways to limit human exposure to ticks include repellants, wearing clothes that cover arms and legs, showering after being in potential tick infested areas and nightly tick checks. Family pets should also be checked and either vaccinated or treated topically.
The task force recommended that the state should consider proper construction of schools in order to prevent deer population increases and tick exposures. Also, when students go outdoors, they should take into account the risk of the area they are entering. If there is risk, they should wear appropriate clothing to cut down on risks of tick exposure.
Education of teachers, students, school nurses and other professionals in the schools is also a huge recommendation that the task force wants authorities to focus on.
The task force will give these recommendations to Gov. Bob McDonnell to take into consideration in addressing Lyme disease in Virginia.
Check out the Q&A with Michael Farris by clicking here.