In a follow-up on the status of the Kay Hagan Tick Act, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that legislation they authored to improve research, prevention, diagnostics, and treatment for tick-borne diseases passed the Senate today as part of the appropriations package. The legislation now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

With its abdomen engorged with a host blood meal, this image depicts a lateral, or side view of a female blacklegged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis/CDC

The Kay Hagan Tick Act unites the effort to confront the alarming public health threat posed by Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, which have risen exponentially from approximately 30,000 cases in 2003 to an estimated 450,000 last year.  Senators Collins and Smith renamed the bill in honor of former Senator Kay Hagan, who passed away on October 28th, 2019, due to complications from the tick-borne disease known as the Powassan virus.

In Maine alone, there were approximately 1,400 new cases of Lyme disease in 2018, a sharp increase from the 752 cases in 2010.  Far too many Americans with Lyme disease experience a complex diagnostic odyssey that takes months or even years, while suffering severe and debilitating symptoms.  In addition to the physical and emotional toll that Lyme disease takes, it is also expensive.  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 balloon to $75 billion per year.

“Congress’ passage of the Tick Act is a major victory for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who contract Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses each year.  I am grateful for the countless advocates who shared their struggles with these diseases and conveyed the urgent need for this comprehensive, bipartisan bill,” said Senator Collins.  “With a national effort the Tick Act would establish, we can slow the spread of these devastating tick-borne illnesses and protect our health.”

“I’ve said that for the sake of Americans’ health and well-being, we need to get this bill over the finish line,” said Senator Smith. “The number of Lyme disease cases is on the rise, and we need to address this so Minnesotans can continue to enjoy spending time outside exploring our parks, swimming and boating in our lakes, and hiking in our forests safely.”

Using a three-pronged approach, 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 treatment, and coordinate common efforts across federal agencies including 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 tick and vector-borne diseases and amplify their initiatives through public-private partnerships.

In 2016, Congress took a critical step forward with the enactment of the 21st Century Cures Act, which created a federal Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group.  This Working Group released its first report in November 2018, which created several recommendations for next steps. With the findings of this report in mind, this legislation puts key recommendations into practice.