More than two months after dismay ensued among its members over the limited time frame alloted for Suffolk County’s new tick advisory committee to complete its work, the county legislature voted Tuesday to extend the committee’s authority until the county legislature adopts its Vector Control office’s 2016 work plan.
This committee was originally created early this year to advise the county’s Division of Vector Control on developing a plan to reduce tick-borne illnesses, with a directive to “meet on a monthly basis until such time as a plan to reduce the incidence of tick-borne illnesses is completed and adopted as part of the annual vector control plan.”
The annual vector control plan is due each October, and when the committee first met in July, members were dismayed to learn that their group had been expected to complete its work in such a short time frame.
The committee consists of 12 members, including Chairman Dr. Jorge Benach, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Distinguished Professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at Stony Brook University. Dr. Benach was designated by Dr. James Tomarken, the Commissioner of Suffolk County Department of Health Services.
Their mission is to oversee the implementation of South Fork County Legislator Jay Schneiderman’s 2013 legislation requiring Vector Control to submit annual plans on reduction of tick-borne illnesses, including the work to be done, the methods to be employed and methods of determining the effectiveness of the program.
The federal Centers for Disease Control reported last year that Lyme Disease was 10 times more prevalent than the CDC had previously believed, with 300,000 cases diagnosed each year, many of which had never previously been reported to the CDC.
New York doctors have reported more than 5,000 cases of Lyme Disease in five of the last ten years, more than any other state. The full state-by-state report is available here. But, the CDC says, those numbers likely far underestimate the amount of people who have the disease, because many diagnoses are actually never reported to the CDC.
Despite this public health crisis, ticks are not widely treated by public health agencies as a “disease vector” insect. This task force and the law directing vector control to address ticks is an attempt to change all that.
If the idea of a tick committee sounds familiar to you, that’s because there’s actually already a tick task force operating at the county level, which has been discussing the treatment of ticks as a disease vector insect.
In 2012, Suffolk County created a Tick and Vector-Borne Diseases Task Force, at the urging of then-North Fork County Legislator Ed Romaine, which held public hearings with great fanfare that fall. But that task force did not release a report that had been expected at the end of 2013, and its commission from the county was expected to expire June 1, 2014.
Mr. Schneiderman sponsored legislation in June to give the task force until December to complete its report, after which the terms of office of the members of that task force will also expire.