Senator Susan Collins (R), Maine and Senator Tina Smith (D), Minnesota have introduced the Kay Hagan Tick Act, named in honor of the late Senator Kay Hagan, who died from complications of a tick-borne infection. The hope is this legislation will provide research funding for Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, which have been on the rise in recent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 30,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. However, the CDC cautions these statistics may not be reflective of the real impact of Lyme disease. Many Lyme disease diagnoses are not reported as sometimes Lyme disease symptoms can resemble many other conditions.
Children’s National Hospital defines Lyme disease as, “a multi-stage, multi-system bacterial infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, a spiral-shaped bacterium that is most commonly transmitted by a tick bite.”
A child can only contract Lyme if bitten by a tick carrying this specific bacteria. While the concentration of Lyme disease and the ticks that carry it are more prominent in certain areas of the country, like the northeast and Wisconsin, cases of Lyme disease have been reported in almost every state.
Lyme disease has three stages that present in very different ways. Stage one occurs three to 30 days after a bite. Children will usually present with a red “bulls-eye” looking rash, but many do not. Stage one symptoms can often resemble the flu: fatigue, achiness, sore throat, low-grade fever and swollen glands. In this early stage, if Lyme disease is identified, it can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics.
Unfortunately, the blood test used to identify Lyme disease may not detect it if your child is early in stage one. “It is possible to test for Lyme disease, but the tests aren’t very reliable in the early stages of infection, since it takes time for your child’s immune system to produce the response that the tests look for,” according to Boston Children’s Hospital’s website. “That means that your child’s test may come back negative, but may still have Lyme disease.”
Stage two of Lyme disease usually occurs weeks or months after the infection if your child has gone undiagnosed. In this stage, the bacteria may move through your child’s bloodstream, affecting multiple body systems. Symptoms can include multiple rashes, facial nerve palsy, inflammation of the heart, lymphocytic meningitis or flu-like symptoms similar to phase one.
Stage three of Lyme disease can occur months or years after infection and is most often characterized by arthritis or extreme joint pain.
The current testing and diagnostics for Lyme disease often aren’t reliable. This leaves many patients suffering for longer periods of time and with potentially more serious symptoms and long-term health effects.
Collin’s and Smith’s legislation hopes to provide additional funding to Lyme disease research. It’s believed that further research will improve both the diagnostic and treatment protocols for Lyme disease and other tick-born infections, hopefully, limiting the growing number of people affected across the US.