Anti-tick funds dry up

Final NY budget doesn’t renew Paul Smith’s College research

An engorged blacklegged tick, otherwise known as a deer tick (Provided photo — Andre Karwath via Wikimedia Commons)

PAUL SMITHS — The New York state budget passed Monday did not renew $1 million in funding for Lyme disease research, including $30,000 used by Paul Smith’s College students to track the spread of ticks and the diseases they carry in the North Country.

The research of ticks was formerly funded by the state Senate Task Force on Lyme and other Tick Borne Diseases, but with a new Democratic majority in the state Senate this year, all task forces were reset. The majority party has not created a replacement one for tick-borne disease.

Professor Lee Ann Sporn, who leads tick research at Paul Smith’s College, said though the state funding has run dry this year, her students will continue their research, though the scope of their work will likely shrink, instead of expand with the tick population.

She thanked the Senate for the past two years of tick surveillance they funded, which led to the revelations that ticks are living at higher altitudes, that there are more species of ticks entering the area and that they are carrying new diseases.

“(It) was a disappointment because we’ve made great progress on that and it’s been a bipartisan issue whenever we’ve had meetings and hearings,” said Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who sat on the former tick task force.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do with very little money,” Sporn said. “It’s incredible to me that the funding. … It’s so little, and it’s so hard to get. I’m kind of baffled about that. We’re not asking for millions.”

Sporn said she understood why it was not included, though.

“I don’t feel as though the Senate doesn’t care about Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases,” Sporn said. “This budget year was really difficult.”

She also said she was “blown away” by the community support she received from advocates when the funding was on the line. The governor’s Executive Budget did not include the funding, the state Senate’s reinstated it, but it did not make it through to the final budget.

Sporn’s research will continue, though.

“We’ll do the best we can with the resources we have,” Sporn said. “The college is dedicated to supporting this work, at least to some extent where it involves students.”

She said the limited budget will mean the research may have to scale back and focus on what is most important. Sporn said her students will still collaborate with the Department of Health to keep the state updated with their latest research.

Sporn said having the funding renewed on a year-by-year basis makes her research uncertain. She wants to get continuous funding to guarantee her research can continue.

Little said several senators from the former task force are trying to organize a new one in the Democratic Party, specifically Sen. Sue Serino, R-Hyde Park, who previously led the task force.

“We’re trying to get the people from the Hudson Valley interested,” Little said. “Certainly, Senator Serino is working with them.”

Sporn said she hopes that funding can be reinstated next year.

“I’m hoping that … the legislators would understand that this is fundamental to protecting human health,” Sporn said.

She also said she may look into getting funding from private sources in the near future.

She said any money she receives would be used to hire staff. She said her fear is that a lack of funding will force her to skip a year of research.

“It’s amazing what can happen in a year,” Sporn said. “I don’t know what we might miss.”

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