Time to take tick-borne diseases seriously

By Paula Jackson Jones | May 19, 2017

The first paragraph of the Executive Summary of the 2017 Lyme Legislature Report states as follows:

Lyme disease is a notifiable condition in the State of Maine. The goal of Lyme disease surveillance is to help define demographic, geographic, and seasonal distribution; monitor disease trends; identify risk factors for transmission; and promote prevention and education efforts among the public and medical communities. Reported cases are classified as confirmed, probable, and suspect based on clinical symptoms and laboratory testing interpreted using criteria established by federal CDC. The surveillance case definition is not intended to be used in clinical diagnosis. Lyme disease surveillance is passive, dependent upon reporting, and therefore likely to be an under-representation of the true burden of Lyme disease in Maine. Federal CDC released a statement in 2013 that the true burden of Lyme disease may be up to 10 times the number of reported cases.

Some statistical data to think about. In 2016, 1,439 confirmed and probable cases were reported (at a rate of 108.2 cases per 100,00 persons in Maine), but in theory, we could be actually looking at something closer to 14,390 cases — and that would be only the cases that tested positive by Federal CDC surveillance criteria. Thirty-three percent of reported cases were from Southern Maine with 23 percent from Midcoast (Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties).

Most common symptoms reported was the bulls-eye rash in 50 percent of reported cases. Joint swelling in 30 percent and Bells Palsy/cranial neuritis in 11 percent. Sixty-four cases were hospitalized. Forty-one percent of cases were female, 59 were male and the average age was 45, however, there were confirmed reports of diagnosis from age one to 95.

Other Tick-borne diseases emerging in Maine

Borrelia Burgdorferi (Lyme disease) is not the only tick-borne disease that ticks in Maine are carrying. Among confirmed reports were positive cases of Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, Erlichiosis, Powassan and Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis. In 2015, the Maine CDC reported that more than 50 percent of all ticks in Maine carried some tick-borne disease. However, looking at the tick, one has no way of knowing if or what that tick may be carrying. There are labs that you can send the tick to to have it tested (that information can be found on our website).

With confirmed and probable reports of these tick-borne diseases emerging here in Maine, the Maine CDC continues to emphasize prevention. Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education gives year-round prevention talks with heavy emphasis on The Five Points of Prevention (Skin, Clothing, Pets, Homes and Yards). Following these practices, it reduces the risk of having a tick encounter and thus, lowers your risk for contracting a tick-borne disease.

For more information about tick-borne diseases, to schedule a prevention talk or ask a question, email paula@mldse.org or visit mldse.org.

Paula Jackson Jones is the president of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education.

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