Incidents of Lyme disease are on the rise in Maine, with Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties ranked the top five for reported cases per 100,000 people. The photo above shows the bull’s-eye shaped rash appearing in approximately 80 percent of Lyme cases at the site of deer tick bites. by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
In response to the growing concern in Maine about Lyme disease, last month Governor Paul LePage officially proclaimed May as Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (Maine CDC) Director Dr. Sheila Pinette said the growing concern “is why awareness and education is so important.”
According to the Maine CDC, Lyme disease is the second-most commonly reported infectious disease in Maine, with over 1,000 cases reported in 2011. The deer tick carries Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection. Cases have been reported in all 16 Maine counties and have been on the rise over the past five years according to the CDC.
Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc are the top five counties in Maine when rated for number of cases of Lyme disease per 100,000 persons in 2011. Knox County led the state, with 254 cases per 100,000 people reported. The next county on the list was Cumberland, with 127.7 cases per 100,000, followed closely by Lincoln County at 113.4. Sagadahoc ranked fifth at 99.9 cases.
The summer months in Maine have the highest incidence of Lyme infection. Lyme commonly presents symptoms within three to 30 days after being bitten by a tick. It is most common among school age children and middle age adults.
The most frequently occurring early symptom is an expanding ring-like red rash at the site of the tick bite. It is sometimes described as looking like a bull’s-eye. This is often accompanied by fever, headache, joint and/or muscle pain, and fatigue. The rash appears in approximately 80 percent of Lyme cases.
According to the Maine CDC, “Later features of Lyme disease can include arthritis in one or more joints (often the knee), Bell’s palsy and other cranial nerve palsies, meningitis, and carditis [sometimes referred to as “AV,” which stands for atrioventricular block, or first-degree heart block]. Lyme disease is rarely, if ever, fatal. The great majority of Lyme disease cases can be treated very effectively with oral antibiotics for 10 days to a few weeks. IV antibiotics for up to 28 days may be needed for some cases of Lyme disease which affect the nervous system, joints, or heart.”
Lyme disease first came into the public awareness in Connecticut in 1975. It was first identified in Maine in 1987. To avoid Lyme disease, the Maine CDC suggests the “No Ticks 4 ME” approach, which includes: 1. wear protective clothing; 2. use insect repellent; 3. perform daily tick checks; 4. use caution in tick habitats.
“Protective clothing” in this case means to wear long pants and shirtsleeves when entering tick habitats. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots.
Deer ticks most commonly inhabit damp, humid places such as wooded areas and the edges of forests. The high grass on the borders of forested areas is a perfect breeding ground for ticks. Places where deer travel also play host to deer ticks, which is almost everywhere in southern Maine. It must be stated, however, that deer are not the only carriers of deer ticks. Rodents play a large part in the spread of these insects, also.
Ticks must be attached for at least 24 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted. If a person has been bitten, he or she should watch for symptoms for at least 30 days after exposure. The concept of chronic Lyme disease is a controversial subject for many. Some physicians believe Lyme disease is not always cured with a course of antibiotics, but lingers, causing numerous health problems, including extreme fatigue and exhaustion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against long-term antibiotic treatment for chronic Lyme disease. The CDC states there is no supporting evidence of the existence of chronic Lyme disease. They feel prolonged treatment with antibiotics may have serious side effects.
According to Department of Health and Human Services/National Institutes of Health (DHHS/NIH), “Because few antibiotics are highly specific, they not only destroy ‘bad’ bacteria but also kill many of the beneficial bacteria that inhabit the body. These good bacteria play a critical role in maintaining general health and preventing disease-causing organisms from establishing a foothold.”
The DHHS/NIH goes on to say, “In addition to personal safety concerns, unnecessary antibiotic use contributes to the serious, growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. Overuse of antibiotics has led to many bacteria developing resistance to the very drugs doctors once used to combat them.”
A minority view holds that chronic Lyme disease is responsible for a range of unexplained symptoms, including exhaustion, arthritis, heart ailments and more. Many patient advocates, notably an organization called the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, have fought to have chronic Lyme recognized by the majority of the medical community as an actual illness.
The argument continues, based upon anecdotal evidence pointing to the existence of chronic Lyme disease versus the lack of scientific studies showing definitive proof of its legitimacy.
For more information, visit the Maine CDC, www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/navtabs/topics.htm, or the Federal CDC, www.cdc.gov/lyme.