On Thursday, the Senate Health Committee voted to advance legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tina Smith (D-MN) to improve research, prevention, diagnostics, and treatment for tick-borne diseases.  Their bill, The Kay Hagan Tick Act now heads to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.

Black-legged tick
Ixodes scapularis, a Black-legged tick/CDC

The legislation 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.  Senator Collins 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.

“I want to express my condolences to the family of our former colleague and friend, Senator Kay Hagan, who passed away this week from complications of the Powassan virus. It is the same tick-borne disease that took the life of Maine artist Lyn Snow in 2013,” said Senator Collins.  “Tick-borne diseases like Lyme have become a major public health concern, with the incidence exploding over the past 15 years.  The Tick Act takes a comprehensive approach to address Lyme and other tick and vector-borne diseases.  I am pleased that our bipartisan bill was approved by the Senate Health Committee today, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this important legislation to reverse this burgeoning public health crisis.”

“Minnesotans enjoy spending time outside exploring our state parks, swimming and boating in our lakes, and hiking in our forests,” said Senator Smith.  “Unfortunately, the number of Lyme disease cases in the state—and states across the country—is on the rise. I’m glad that our bipartisan bill to address this problem cleared the Senate Health Committee today, bringing it one step closer to becoming law. For the sake of Americans’ health and well-being, we need to keep moving this bill forward.”

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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 testing, and coordinate common efforts 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 vector-borne diseases and amplify their initiatives through public-private partnerships.