Tick-borne disease experts from Marshfield Clinic Health System testified before the Wisconsin State Assembly Committee on Health, Oct. 16 in Madison, to support two bills aimed at combatting tick-borne diseases.

Thomas Fritsche, M.D., Ph.D., service line medical director for Health System laboratories and Jennifer Meece, Ph.D., research scientist and director of the Integrated Research and Development Laboratory in Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, represented the Health System during committee hearings.

“Our service area largely overlaps with that of the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the state as recognized by the Department of Health Services, with 3,105 cases reported state-wide in 2018 and approximately 1,100 cases alone being diagnosed within Marshfield Clinic Health System," said Dr. Fritsche during testimony.

The Health System representatives testified in support of Assembly bills 313 and 317. Assembly bill 313 would create a state tick-borne disease study committee to recommend policy changes involving awareness, prevention, surveillance, diagnosis and reporting among other goals. Assembly bill 317 would increase the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' efforts to raise awareness about Lyme disease at state recreational facilities. Both bills were introduced June 27, 2019 by Representative Jeffrey Mursau (R – Crivitz) and co-sponsored by Senator Robert L. Cowles (R – Green Bay).

Seeing many cases of Lyme disease on an annual basis, the Health System clinical laboratories use a diagnostic testing algorithm for Lyme disease as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, research scientists at the Research Institute have developed molecular diagnostic tests that identify the presence of the other major tick-borne diseases including anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis that have subsequently been adopted by Health System laboratories. These infections are less common than Lyme disease, but also pose a higher risk for acute and possibly life-threatening outcomes.

Research scientists also have pursued published studies on the genetic characterization of pathogens, immune and physiologic responses to tick-borne diseases, ecologic studies in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources on tick and tick-borne disease distribution, and epidemiologic studies on disease prevalence trends and geographic distribution within our service area.

“We have been conducting tick-borne disease research here for more than 30 years. While we have learned much in that time, there is still a lot of research on these diseases the Research Institute is poised to lead," Dr. Meece said.

A Lyme disease medical conference for medical and allied health providers is being planned for April 30 and May 1, 2020 in Minocqua.  ​​