Comstock: Putting a Bullseye on Lyme Disease

By U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock

As too many of those who suffer from Lyme Disease know, Northern Virginia is one of the most common locations for a person to contract Lyme or tick-based diseases, with most cases confirmed in the months of June, July, and August.

For almost a decade now, I have joined the community battling Lyme Disease at the Annual Lyme 5k in Loudoun.  The 5k is held in May for Lyme Disease Awareness Month—a designation I established first in 2011 when I served in the General Assembly. This annual event is always a special opportunity for me to hear from hundreds of those living with Lyme Disease, as well as provide an opportunity for all of us to hear from patient advocates and medical professionals and health care providers to improve the lives of those afflicted with Lyme.

To address this public health threat, I worked with the National Capital Lyme Disease Association to author and pass the first legislation in the country to inform patients of the high rates of false negatives in Lyme Disease testing.  This is especially important in communities such as ours, as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) ranks Virginia a high incidence state for Lyme.  In 2015, the CDC reported that Virginia was one of the 14 states from which 94% of confirmed Lyme Disease cases were reported.  Nearly 200 new cases were reported in 2016 in Loudoun County.

Tragically, many people do not realize they have Lyme Disease. Untreated Lyme disease can produce a wide range of symptoms, depending on the stage of infection. These include fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis. The CDC recommends you seek medical attention if you observe any of these symptoms and have had a tick bite, live in an area known for Lyme Disease, or have recently traveled to an area where Lyme Disease is common.

It is estimated that Lyme Disease costs the U.S. healthcare system between $712 million and $1.3 billion each year. But the misery it inflicts on our friends and loved ones is incalculable. Lyme can be missed for years or incorrectly diagnosed as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune diseases, lupus or arthritis, or worse – patients are sometimes told that what they are suffering from is psychiatric disorder or mental health issue.

That is why in Congress, I have continued to work on this issue and joined the Congressional Lyme Disease Task Force to continue to focus on more research support for Lyme Disease. We also educate members of Congress and their staff, raise awareness about this disease, advocate for better detection programs and new research funding to better understand and treat Lyme, and secure commitments from federal partners to reassess current approaches to diagnosing and treating this disease.

I have also worked with our leaders at George Mason University who have been at the forefront of research on better detection of Lyme Disease.  At the Institute for Biomedical Innovation at George Mason, Lance Liotta and the team at the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, in partnership with Ceres Nanosciences, have developed a cutting-edge test to better determine if a person has an ongoing case of Lyme.  The Nanotrap test is a urine-based Lyme Antigen test that provides the most sensitive detection of Lyme at every stage of the disease.

This test is currently being offered at two Northern Virginia clinics: Internal Medicine of Northern Virginia, 1860 Towncenter Drive, #230 in Reston andthe Virginia Center for Health & Wellness 39070 John Mosby Highway near Aldie.

This is one of the many reasons that I have supported significant increased funding to NIH every year I have been in Congress to support cutting edge research such as this that will save lives and ultimately save money. Earlier this year, Congress increased funding to the NIH by $3 billion, bringing total funding to $37 billion.

In addition to providing new funds for research, I have cosponsored H.R. 5900, the National Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Control and Accountability Act. This legislation will create a new national strategy for tick-borne disease and new oversight and coordination structures to better align local and federal resources.

Critical to our efforts in Congress to further the fight against Lyme Disease are provisions enacted into law as part of the 21st Century Cures Act that created the Tick-Borne Disease Working Group to produce a unified strategy to improve prevention practices, coordinate federal efforts, and further establish evidenced based polices to fight tick-borne disease.

At its first meeting held earlier this year, the working group heard testimony from Dr. Sam Shor, an expert in the field of Lyme and tick-borne diseases. In his time serving as Chair of the Loudoun County Lyme Commission, Dr. Shor witnessed first-hand the impact this debilitating disease has on Northern Virginia. Dr. Shor has been instrumental in assisting in the development of new diagnostic practices and treatment regimens for Lyme, and I am pleased he brings his expertise to the Working Group.

I have also called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to allow the use of innovative and cutting-edge diagnostic, treatment, and research programs to diagnose and treat Lyme Disease. We want to make sure that patients can receive the most up-to-date and beneficial diagnosis and treatment options available. Building on new approaches developed during the response to the Zika virus, we can produce improved outcomes for other vector-based diseases.

As our families and neighbors take added precaution to prevent the spread of tick-borne disease, I am committed in Congress to further our national strategy to earlier detect, treat and eradicate Lyme Disease.

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