WASHINGTON – Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., plans to briefly suspend her campaign for re-election Aug. 30 to slip across the Connecticut border to testify in Stamford about a serious health issue that almost nobody understands.
It is the growing menace of tick-borne disease, Lyme disease mainly, in America, particularly in the Northeast. She and Sen. Charles E. Schumer are among 12 sponsors of a bipartisan bill that advances a modest idea:
To create a federal committee to advise the Department of Health and Human Services on how to better combat a brace of dangerous, sometimes deadly, diseases.
The field hearing, one of those semi-official affairs, will be chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., whose state is among the three hardest hit in terms of cases per population. New York has had the most confirmed cases a year, running to as many as 5,000.
One reason the caseload is growing is correctness from the ideological right. This entails, as is always the case with correctness, a deft change of language. The bug universally blamed for carrying Lyme disease was once known as the “deer tick,” as in white-tailed deer that carry them.
It is now obediently called the “black legged tick.” In New York, white-tailed deer, alive or dead, clutter the roads and highways. They munch on people's gardens, kill forest growth and foul suburban lawns. There are almost a million of them roaming the state, one for every 18 bi-peds.
Yet politically, the white tailed deer does not exist. This is because of the convergence of interest of gun-huggers of the National Rifle Association, hunters posing as conservationists and the sporting goods and guide industry which pockets more than $1 billion in sales and fees from those involved in the closely limited “harvests” of white tailed deer in the Empire State.
“Ninety percent of the hosts for the ticks are deer,” said Bob Oley, a professional engineer and a director of the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance, which pushed for the Blumenthal hearing. Oley was infected two decades ago, but the disease went undiagnosed for a dozen years. Oley said he has been on antibiotics for more than three years and is still not totally rid of the symptoms.
If the red bulls-eye bite is properly diagnosed and treated in the first two weeks, cure is pretty common. If not, ailments can last years, like malaria.
They often mimic influenza, and chronic fatigue syndrome. A cousin of Lyme disease, babesiosis, also carried by the deer tick, can result in death.
Schumer is among many who believe the incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne ailments go underreported because of a lack of public awareness and lapses in diagnosis. The federal government spends about $28 million a year on Lyme disease studies, but the grants are thinly spread around. The bill, S. 1381, would better coordinate these studies and provide resources to upgrade public education and diagnosis.
If the Buffalo Bills remain in Buffalo, much of the credit must go to the vigilance and pursuit of Schumer. Schumer firmly urged the National Football League last week to reshape the formula under which it aids teams like the Bills to improve their stadiums. The NFL needs to pay attention to Schumer because he is fourth-ranking majority member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, the chairman of rules, and chairs the majority policy panel.
The reason NFL franchises are so valuable is because they are a monopoly, a situation Congress can quickly change. The NFL does not enjoy anti-trust immunity. The NFL needs federal courts to bless all NFL financial arrangements with the players.