Senate passes legislation to study Lyme disease

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, discusses the bill June 12 on the Senate floor.
June 23, 2014

The Senate passed legislation June 12 sponsored by Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, that would ramp up the state’s efforts to combat Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted primarily by ticks. Left untreated, the disease can cause problems in the joints, heart and central nervous system.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, Delaware was fourth in the nation with about 55 confirmed cases for every 100,000 residents.

Lopez’s legislation would create the Lyme Disease Prevention Task Force, made up of lawmakers, representatives from the Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Department of Education, the Delaware Economic Development Office, and members of the public.

The panel would coordinate its efforts with state medical, healthcare and education professionals to develop a statewide model for education, treatment and prevention.

“It is scary when you come back in from mowing the lawn and you find a tick on you, but it’s even more frightening when you find it on your child,” Lopez said on the Senate floor. “So, I’m really hopeful that what comes out of this, as we move forward, is some good awareness and good education in regard to seeing how we can really tackle this problem, which again is growing in Delaware by the day.”

If treated early, in most cases, the infection and its symptoms can be eliminated by antibiotics. Delayed treatment can lead to more serious and disabling health issues.

Abby Webb, 29, of Rehoboth Beach was diagnosed with Lyme disease about 10 years ago, but she says she has suffered from it for most of her life. As a result, she’s had to deal with chronic joint pain, migraine headaches, and learning disabilities and has been in and out of a wheelchair.

Webb was in Florida receiving treatment for the disease when she heard the news that Lopez’s legislation passed the Senate unanimously.

“This is the best birthday/Christmas present you can ever imagine for somebody who has been suffering as long as I have,” she said. “I really think Delaware has a huge problem with this, and it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”

As she has struggled with the disease, Webb says she has done her best to promote awareness and public policy. She says her efforts have always eventually hit  a roadblock - until recently.

“He listens, he reads every single thing I send him,” Webb said of Lopez. “The fact that he and a bunch of other guys are actually paying attention now is just wonderful. I mean this is serious; our kids need to be warned.”

The measure now heads to the House for a vote before it can be signed into law. If it becomes law, the panel would have until June 1, 2015, to report its findings and recommendations back to the General Assembly.