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Op-Ed: New Lyme Disease Legislation Now In Effect
Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fairfax, Virginia

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013
New Lyme Disease legislation now in effect

On July 1, the Lyme Disease Testing Information Disclosure Act that I sponsored this year went into effect. Virginia is now the first state in the nation to disseminate information about testing problems directly to those who are suffering from Lyme Disease. This patient-centered measure enables patients to seek additional testing, if necessary, as well as receive appropriate and timely treatment. I’ve already seen this information posted in doctors’ offices around our area, in compliance with the new law, and other states impacted are looking to take action too.

We modeled our Lyme legislation on an earlier bill we passed which provided information to women about problems in identifying breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue. In both cases, getting more information to patients both empowers and helps them seek additional treatments or information to help them battle these diseases.

I’ve heard from so many people in our community who are battling Lyme. Since I first took office, I have worked with leaders throughout Northern Virginia, including our Congressman Frank Wolf and Lyme Disease prevention advocates, to increase public awareness of this public health threat. In 2011, I passed a resolution to permanently designate May as Lyme Disease Awareness Month in Virginia.

The Lyme Disease Testing Information Disclosure Act that we passed this year simply requires health care providers to notify those tested for Lyme Disease that tests can produce a high rate of false negative results. The tests for Lyme only become more accurate the longer the disease is in your body. We worked with McLean’s Monte Skall and members of the National Capital Lyme Disease Association and were assisted by many of their volunteers who worked tirelessly to get their stories about failing to detect Lyme to legislators throughout Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth. It was the grassroots support and these stories that generated the winning bipartisan margin. Sharon Rainey of Great Falls, another tireless advocate who helps those in our community with Lyme Disease, was also a leader who worked with us to make this legislation a reality.

We need better and more accurate testing to help promote earlier diagnosis and treatment for this devastating illness, and are fortunate that the medical community in our area is working to find solutions. For example, in May, I joined some of my colleagues for a meeting with researchers from George Mason University’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine and business partner Ceres Nanoscience to learn more about a new technology that will dramatically improve detection of Lyme Disease.

The lead researcher on the project is George Mason Assistant Professor, Dr. Alessandra Luchini, recently named as one of the “Brilliant 10” scientists under the age of 40 by Popular Science magazine. Her team and their partners at Ceres Nanoscience have been dedicated to refining their work on a new technology called a Nanotrap that will dramatically improve detection of Lyme Disease at much earlier stages. This testing also could lead to earlier cancer testing.

Dr. Chip Petricoin, co-director of CAPMM and director of science at Ceres Nanoscience explained the Nanotrap as a “vacuum cleaner for infectious disease markers,” able to “identify evidence of the disease when it is 2,000 times smaller” than what can be identified with current testing processes.

Dr. Lance Liotta, also co-director of CAPMM and director of science at Ceres Nanoscience, noted that use of the Nanotrap test will “dramatically reduce the false negatives of current testing processes and lead to earlier and greatly improved treatment outcomes for those suffering from Lyme Disease.”

I look forward to continuing to work with doctors, members of the Lyme community, neighbors, family and friends to increase public awareness of Lyme Disease and to ensure patient-centered medical care for all Virginians.

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported “vector-borne” illness in the United States. (“Vector” refers to a toxic microbe in the blood caused by a bug bite, such as a tick bite.) The Virginia Department of Health reports that there were an estimated 1,110 cases of Lyme disease in the state in 2012, up 9 percent from 2011. And cases were reported in all regions of Virginia.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease may include headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. If left untreated or if treatment is delayed, the disease can become chronic with serious, debilitating complications, such as joint pain and swelling, heart disease, neurological problems (e.g., Bell’s palsy), dizziness, irritability, ADHD-like symptoms, cognitive dysfunction, muscle weakness and neuropathy.

Del. Barbara Comstock (R-Dist. 34), McLean

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