GROTON — “Lyme Disease in Massachusetts: A Public Health Crisis” is the title of the April 2011 report issued by the chairman of the House of Representatives, David Linsky, and Vice Chairman Benjamin Swan.
State Rep. Sheila Harrington is one of nine additional members of the Committee who came to this conclusion. “The occurrence of Lyme disease has reached near epidemic proportions in Massachusetts,” states Linsky in his cover letter for the report. To address this issue, the Committee has called for a state-chartered commission to convene, in order to bring medical experts, wildlife management, public health officials, and insect control together with patients and advocates to propose solutions to the treatment, prevention and education of Lyme disease. One of the key objectives is to create and approve legislation mandating insurance coverage for long-term antibiotic treatment for chronic Lyme, an issue that Lyme-disease victims have been fighting for years. Lyme disease has affected every city and town in the commonwealth, with hundreds of citizens affected by its debilitating symptoms. This bill has been attached as an outside amendment to the budget, which has already been approved by the House of Representatives. It still requires approval by the State Senate and the governor.
Gov. Deval Patrick has officially proclaimed the month of May as “Lyme Disease Awareness Month.” The Nashoba Valley Lyme Disease Task Force, co-founded by Groton residents Robin Lemieux, Donna Castle and Jayme Kulesz, has been working with advocates around the state, including retired State Rep. Robert Hargraves, who was instrumental at the Statehouse in getting the physician’s protection bill signed into law by Gov. Patrick, which allows physicians the ability to treat Lyme-disease patients with antibiotics for more than 30 days when deemed necessary. In conjunction with the Groton Board of Health, the Task Force has overseen the design of “Caution” signs for identifying deer tick habitats, which will be posted along trails, near sports fields and on school properties, advising residents of precautions to take.
With Lyme disease cases increasing ten-fold between 1997 and 2009, the response from local advocates and state officials is moving in the right direction. As residents are further educated and preventative measures are utilized, the cases of Lyme disease will hopefully decrease going forward.