Climate Change Is Worsening Lyme Disease, Scientist Warns

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, June 22, Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel L. Levine, alongside members of Congress, highlighted the challenges to health equity because of climate-change-related health stressors, such as changing land-use patterns and warmer average temperatures.

“The growth of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is alarming,” said Dr. Levine in keynote remarks. “Climate change is worsening the problem by expanding the geographic and seasonal distribution of ticks, which increases the risk of humans contracting Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. My office is embracing transformative innovation to accelerate scientific breakthroughs through cross-cutting collaboration and partnerships.”

Panelists during the event were asked to share personal journeys with Lyme as applicable, discuss how climate change impacts the spread of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, provide an update on their organizations’ activities around the development of better Lyme diagnostics, and share any recent learnings regarding persistent symptoms of Lyme disease.

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HHS Chief Data Scientist and Senior Advisor Dr. Kristen Honey brought a unique perspective to the event’s panel as a scientist working in the federal government to advance Lyme Innovation progress through the $25 million-dollar LymeX Innovation Accelerator (LymeX) public-private partnership with the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation.

During the discussion, Dr. Honey elevated some potential solutions suggested during other Lyme efforts, including insights from the published LymeX Roundtable Summary Report: Bridging the Trust Gap.

She also discussed other efforts by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH), including the development and implementation of the first-ever National Strategy for Addressing Vector-Borne Diseases and the use of the LymeX Health+ human-centered design methodologies to identify and co-create solutions that address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities. The published Health+ Lyme Disease Human-Centered Design Report – PDF highlights patient, caregiver, and clinician stories in the form of quotes, archetypes, journey maps for diagnosis and persistent symptom treatment, and opportunities areas for a path forward.

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HHS is committed to addressing the upstream social determinants that impact individual and community health. “When you have climate-related problems like Lyme, those communities and people that don’t have the financial means and other social resources to manage their health don’t have the best outcomes,” said Dr. Honey as part of the panel.

Lastly, Dr. Levine introduced plans for the LymeX Education and Awareness Healthathon to raise awareness about Lyme disease and preventing tick bites. Open through July 20, the challenge encourages those who are eligible to create educational materials (for example, social media content, educational or training videos, graphics, or posters) to help raise awareness about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, how to prevent tick bites, how to recognize a tick, or when to seek medical care. Participants can learn more on Challenge.gov.

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