Lyme disease more than doubles in state

May 20, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN REPORTER

Reported cases of Lyme disease in Maryland doubled last year and more than tripled in Howard County, leading the county health officer to join state officials yesterday in warning citizens and recommending prevention measures.

"We're seeing a dramatic increase in Lyme disease in the area," said Dr. Peter Beilenson, adding that experts believe many cases go unreported.

Statewide, the number of reported cases jumped from 1,248 in 2006 to 2,576 last year. In Howard County, the number increased from 113 to 358 during the same period. That could represent "somewhat of a public health success story" if more cases are being reported because of increased public awareness, Beilenson said. But the number of cases is likely rising, too, although officials said they could not pinpoint reasons why.

Among the Howard County residents who contracted the tick-borne disease in 2007 was state Del. Guy Guzzone. He noticed a problem when his ankle began to itch last summer.

"I never saw a tick or anything," he said. "I thought I had a rash or a little bite."

Guzzone's ankle began to swell and he spotted what health officials say is a tell-tale sign of Lyme: a bull's-eye shaped rash. Later Guzzone's ankle got so big he could not wear shoes.

A week later, after some urging from friends, he sought treatment. Even months later, Guzzone said he still often feels lethargic.

State heath officials issued their warning last week as part of the Lyme Disease Awareness Month campaign, timed to coincide with the springtime start of the active season for ticks. The disease can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, headaches and fatigue, and can become more serious if not treated.

"These numbers are very useful to monitor trends," said Katherine A. Feldman, the state health department's public health veterinarian. "When you see a doubling of numbers, you need to pay attention."

Beilenson said 70 percent to 80 percent of infected people get the circular rash, but a simple blood test also can detect the disease. Prevention measures including using insect repellent, keeping grass and bushes trimmed, checking skin, and wearing light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot. The insects can be removed with tweezers, he said.

More information on the disease can be found at the state Web site www.marylandtickoff.org.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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