Washington, D.C. — A U.S. Senate committee voted to advance a proposal from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tina Smith (D-MN) to improve research, prevention, diagnostics, and treatment for tick-borne diseases. Their bill now heads to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.
The proposal was formerly named the Ticks: Identify, Control, and Knockout (TICK) Act. It was renamed the Kay Hagan Tick Act in honor of former Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina. In December 2016, Hagan became ill with a type of encephalitis caused by Powassan virus, a tick-borne infection; in October 2019, she died of complications from the virus.
“I want to express my condolences to the family of our former colleague and friend, Senator Kay Hagan, who passed away … from complications of the Powassan virus. It is the same tick-borne disease that took the life of Maine artist Lyn Snow in 2013,” said Senator Collins in a press release. “Tick-borne diseases like Lyme have become a major public health concern, with the incidence exploding over the past 15 years.”
Cases of Lyme disease nearly doubled in Maine from 2010 to 2018. Lyme is the most common tick-borne disease, caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi parasite. Lyme disease can cause flu-like misery and risks of long-term neurological and joint troubles if not treated early. In 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied about 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease.
The Cost of Tick-Borne Diseases
Nationwide, tick-borne diseases have risen exponentially from approximately 30,000 cases in 2003 to an estimated 450,000 last year. Collins describes the surge of tick-borne diseases as a “burgeoning public health crisis.”
Medical costs of Lyme disease are estimated at $1.3 billion per year. When accounting for indirect medical costs, including loss of work, the annual costs are even higher — $75 billion per year.
If passed, the legislation would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategy about the diseases.
The Tick Act would:
1. Require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a national strategy. This would help expand research, improve testing and testing, and coordinate common efforts with DOD, USDA, EPA, the VA, and the Departments of Interior and Homeland Security
2. Reauthorize Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease for five years at $10 million per year. Funding for these centers, which was allotted in 2017, expires in 2021. These centers have led the scientific response against tick-borne diseases, which now make up 75 percent of vector-borne diseases in the U.S. There are five centers located at universities in New York, California, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin.
3. Authorize CDC grants at $20 million per year that would be awarded to state health departments to improve data collection and analysis, support early detection and diagnosis, improve treatment, and raise awareness. These awards would help states build a public health infrastructure for Lyme and other vector-borne diseases and amplify their initiatives through public-private partnerships.
Why Fighting Tick-Borne Diseases Is So Challenging
“One of the challenges is the changing expansion of tick ranges,” says Dr. Brian Herrin, DVM, PhD, an assistant professor at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “And with the exception of the brown dog tick, our ability to manage tick reproduction is limited if not almost nonexistent.”
“In places where ticks have normally been, their numbers are ramping up,” says Dr. Kathryn Reif, MSPH, PhD, assistant professor at K-State CVM. “And ticks are not going away any time soon — they’ve probably been around a couple of million years.”
Dr. Herrin’s primary research objectives are focused on the epidemiology and control of ticks and tick-borne diseases. Dr. Reif’s primary research interests center around the control and prevention of ticks and tick-borne diseases important to companion animal, livestock and human health. The Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases (CEVBD) at K-State is an interdisciplinary research center focused on vectors (mosquitoes and ticks) and vector-borne diseases of significant importance to animal and human health.
In September, Senator Collins, chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, convened a field hearing at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory Tick Lab in Orono, where experts and witnesses discussed the critical need to pass the Tick Act.
“A correct and early diagnosis can reduce costs and improve the prognosis, but we have a long way to go,” Senator Collins said in a press release. “Lyme disease was identified more than 40 years ago, yet there is still no gold standard for treatment. Existing prevention, education, and diagnostic efforts are helpful but remain fragmented. The Kay Hagan Tick Act would help unite our efforts against ticks. The Tick Act takes a comprehensive approach to address Lyme and other tick and vector-borne diseases. I am pleased that our bipartisan bill was approved by the Senate Health Committee, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this important legislation to reverse this burgeoning public health crisis.”
Learn More About Tick-Borne Diseases
Read: The 3 Rs of Tick-Borne Diseases
Read: Dispelling Myths About Ticks
Visit the Parasitology clinical section of our website.