March 10, 2010
Representative Joseph M. McNamara
Chairperson, House Committee on Health Education & Welfare
State of Rhode Island General Assembly
Providence, Rhode Island
Dear Mr. Chairman,
I am writing in regard to bill H 7418 which requires that “the department of elementary and secondary education develop a Lyme disease awareness and prevention course for public school students and all health education classes include instruction on Lyme disease prevention and treatment.”
The Lyme Disease Association (LDA) is a national non profit with 35 partner groups in the US, including an LDA Chapter in Rhode Island. LDA is currently working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other organizations to help prevent the spread of Lyme disease. EPA, CDC, and LDA just had an article accepted for the National Association of School Nurses May 2010 publication on Lyme disease awareness and prevention in schools.
The LDA supports the concept of this bill and feels that there is a need in the state of Rhode Island to provide instruction in the schools on Lyme disease. From 1990 through 2008, Rhode Island had 7,673 reported cases of Lyme, ranking it number 9 in the US over that period. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), only 10% of cases are reported, thus over that time period, Rhode Islanders developed 76,730 cases of Lyme disease. CDC also indicates that children ages 5-9 and 10-14 are at the highest risk of acquiring the disease.
A curriculum for the schools should focus on awareness and prevention and perhaps even sensitivity to students affected by the disease. Due to its multi-systemic nature, Lyme produces varying degrees and types of problems for children. These problems often go unrecognized in the school setting, and cognitive problems may be present one week and gone the next—leading to issues for staff and students alike. As a former 12-year Board of education member and a president, I can personally attest to the problems faced by those students. Much of that can be alleviated when a curriculum is developed which examines the serious nature of the disease.
The LDA believes that the language in H7418 requires some revamping. The word “treatment” should be removed from this bill. Rhode Island already has a bill which addresses treatment. Additionally, the bill currently states that “The course shall be established in accordance with the requirements and criteria obtained from the director of the department of health.” That should be changed to include development by a committee whose membership has a broad base of knowledge about Lyme disease from many perspectives perhaps including the Department of Health, Department of Education, treating physicians, specific disease organizations, even patients, maybe those with children who have been affected.
The State of New Jersey has had on its books for 18 years a law requiring Lyme disease curriculum guidelines which were developed and are recommended for schools in endemic areas. Additionally, the law states “Each school district shall annually provide training to all teachers who instruct students with Lyme disease, based upon the guidelines.” The LDA was largely responsible for the passage of that law and has performed free in-services in many districts in NJ and in other states.
Also, a section of NJ’s “core curriculum content standards for health and physical education” at the 6th grade level contain in the Diseases & Health Conditions “3. Compare and contrast diseases and health conditions prevalent in adolescents, including asthma, obesity, diabetes, Lyme disease, STDs, and HIV/AIDS” (Teen Health Course 1 © 2005).
We all have a responsibility to protect our children, and Lyme disease numbers have risen and its spread has increased, with it now being found in 65 countries worldwide. Currently, awareness is the only tool we have to prevent further disease and to ensure that those who are at the highest risk take precautions against acquiring Lyme disease.
At this time, I respectfully request that you examine the suggested wording changes for inclusion in this bill. If I can be of further service, I can be reached at Lymeliter@aol.com, and the LDA Rhode Island Chapter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia V. Smith
cc: Representative Ray Gallison