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Sen. Schumer Calls for Federal Action to Fight Tick-borne Illness

Dr. Melissa Fierke: Lyme disease research a ‘priority’ in ESF environmental health program

ESF President Quentin Wheeler, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and ESF Provost and Executive Vice President Nosa Egiebor

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Syracuse last week to call for federal action to battle tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease.

Schumer made a to visit Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool July 7 to draw attention to the growing number of Lyme disease cases in the region and the need to swiftly respond to the problem.

"Lyme disease and newly emerging diseases like Powassan are in a sprint to spread this summer, but the federal response to combat this trend is moving along at a snail's pace," Schumer said. "We must do more, and we must do more now to protect kids and families."

Scientists expect the number of ticks, and the number of people suffering from Lyme disease, to increase regionally this summer. Contributing factors are last winter's relatively mild weather, and the growing deer and mice populations that spread the ticks. The emerging Powassan virus is a rarer but more deadly tick-borne disease that is expected to spread across the Northeast.

Dr. Melissa Fierke, an entomologist and associate professor at ESF, joined Schumer in speaking at the Syracuse event, saying research completed in her lab over the last two years indicates Central New York has unexpectedly high numbers of blacklegged ticks and the diseases they carry.

"Lyme disease is a priority within ESF's environmental health program," she said. "Our scientists need support to continue their research into the biology and ecology of ticks to understand the numbers and disease transmission," Fierke said. "Having this knowledge is critical to helping develop best practices for landowners, managers and outdoorsmen/women to prevent disease transmission.

Senator Schumer, Melissa Fierke, Quentin Wheeler

"Additionally," Fierke said, "we should be prioritizing development of a vaccine. This should be a No. 1 priority of New York state's so we can continue to enjoy our beautiful forests and parks."

ESF President Quentin Wheeler also spoke at the event.

"As health threats such as Lyme disease have increased, so, too, has ESF's emphasis on tick research and public education. From basic natural history to innovative research to ways to disrupt the transmission of the disease, ESF faculty are focused on finding solutions. Increased funding would not only protect New York citizens, it would advance our understanding of the emergence and spread of similar diseases."

Schumer has long pushed for federal funding for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme, which has seen an increase in cases across New York state.