Lyme disease becomes campaign issue

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In the Hudson Valley, more people are fighting Lyme disease than almost anywhere in the country. In fact one doctor called it an epidemic.

"People are getting very ill -- they can't work, they can't support their families," Dr. Richard Horowitz said. "There's not even a doubt we are in a full-blown epidemic in the United States."

Horowitz moved his practice from Queens to Hyde Park, New York, to be closer to what he considers the epicenter of the problem. He has treated more than 12,000 Lyme disease patients, written books on it, and is pushing lawmakers federally and locally for more funding for research.

Lyme disease is caused by a tick bite and can produce a wide range of symptoms.

"We are not getting the monies we need for research," Horwitz said. "The NIH is giving about $25 million for Lyme whereas Zika virus got almost a billion even though Lyme is the number one spreading epidemic in the United States at this point."

Lyme disease cases are so prevalent in the Hudson Valley that it has become a campaign issue.

Sen. Sue Serino is running for reelection in the 41st District that represents Dutchess County.

"My son actually was bit when he was 12 years old," Serino said. "It's one of my top priorities because I've seen the devastating effects of Lyme disease and when it's not treated how it affects people and it breaks my heart," Serino said.

Serino sponsored a bill for a state study to determine if insurance companies in New York State could be legally bound to cover costs the long-term effects some patients have with Lyme disease.

Terry Gipson, a Democrat running against Serino, was bitten by a tick in 2012. Gipson said a study doesn't go far enough. Health insurers have long resisted covering the long-term effects of Lyme disease until the CDC recognizes it as a chronic disease.

"It's long past the time to study it," Gipson said. "We have a large amount of people here in Dutchess County and in New York State that are suffering from Lyme disease and cannot afford to pay their medical bills because the insurance companies aren't covering them."

Look for Lyme disease to remain center of this campaign for state Senate in the Hudson Valley as the number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease each day shows no sign of letting up.