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Bill targets Lyme disease

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Griffin Austin was an 11-year-old kid two years ago, spending his days outside playing second base, shooting hoops and fishing. Then he started noticing he couldn’t keep up with his friends. He kept feeling tired until one day after basketball practice he couldn’t walk.

The Verona boy grew weaker and weaker, resorting to an electric scooter to get around, quitting basketball and withdrawing from school. His parents depleted their savings account as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. Finally this past April he was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

“I missed out on two years of my life,” Griffin, now 13, told the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Environment on Thursday.

A group of lawmakers is trying to prevent stories like Griffin’s with a new package of bills designed to combat Lyme disease. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash. Left untreated, the disease can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The tick-borne ailment has always lurked in the background in wooded northern Wisconsin, but now it’s on the rise across the rest of the state. The state Department of Natural Resources theorizes that ticks are multiplying faster than their natural predators.

Reps. Jeff Mursau and Nick Milroy along with Sen. Robert Cowles have proposed measures that would require the Department of Natural Resources to sell insect repellent at every state park and forest as well as post signs warning about the dangers of Lyme disease on state lands.

According to a department fiscal estimate attached to the repellent bill, only five out of 64 state parks and forests offer anything for sale to the public. Building a system to sell repellent at the remaining 59 properties would cost about $15,000.

Agency officials estimate they would have to spend $20,000 annually on repellent, but they expect sales revenue will cover those costs.

The sign bill would require the department to post at least one warning of Lyme disease in every state park, trail, recreational area and forest. The measure would allocate $12,500 for the signs.

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