Gibson: Lyme disease a major health problem
COLUMBIA COUNTY – Columbia County has “become ground zero” for Lyme disease, Rep. Chris Gibson, R-19, said recently.
It’s a “major public health scourge,” he said, especially in the Northeast — and it’s spreading across the country.
During a Lyme forum held in early March, he said ever since he took office, Lyme disease has been at the top of his constituents’ minds. During an April 18 phone interview, he said a symposium held in May 2012 in Saratoga on Lyme disease was “constituent driven.”
But this “public health scourge” also weighs heavily on his mind. Gibson grew up in Kinderhook and after retiring from the Army in 2010, he, his wife and three children, moved back to his hometown. He said he’s “very concerned on a personal level,” as he has family and friends afflicted with Lyme disease.
As a resident in “ground zero,” this may make him one of the best champions for better Lyme disease awareness, testing, treatment and research.
Gibson has teamed up with U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, who called Columbia County home not that long ago, and Richard Blumenthal. The three legislators have partnered with the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance (TBDA) to build support in the fight against Lyme disease. The alliance is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and promoting advocacy to find a cure for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
The forum held in March brought together a panel of doctors, experts, advocates and even nationally syndicated cartoonist John McPherson, creator of the “Close to Home” comic, who has had Lyme disease since 1998.
During the forum, Gibson noted some of the investments are starting to take root and that last year, there was $8.75 million in appropriations for better testing.
Calling from his Washington, D.C. office, he said the five areas of Lyme he’s focused on are awareness, testing, treatment, health care coverage and tick suppression.
With awareness, he said, there are steps individuals can take to lessen exposure, like wearing clothing in particular settings or when returning from certain areas, take a shower, check vulnerable areas on the body and tumble-dry clothes.