Lyme disease skyrocketed in Maine in 2019, reaching a record of at least 2,079 cases that eclipsed the previous high of 1,852 cases in 2017.

“The number may continue to rise as providers make additional case reports,” the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a news release Thursday.

Griffin Dill, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said ticks were “very active” in 2019. The extension runs a laboratory that studies ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Scientists are studying how weather and climate play a role in the range and activity of deer ticks. In general, ticks are more active in humid conditions and are less active in hot and dry conditions. Researchers said the spring and summer of 2019 featured near-ideal conditions for ticks, and a later onset of heavy snow in Maine also may have exposed more people to tick bites.

“The fall was also ideal for ticks, and the fall was extended,” Dill said. “Tick season never really ended.”

The operations center would be located near the grandstand and the racetrack at the Scarborough Downs, at the heart of the village center that’s planned as part of a $621 million mixed-use redevelopment of the harness-racing property.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of a deer tick. If caught early, the infection can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms include a bulls-eye rash – which occurs in about 50 percent of patients – fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, and neurological problems, such as Bell’s palsy.

“While we can’t yet speculate about the reason for this increase, these new numbers emphasize the importance of preventing tick bites,” Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said in a statement. “Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases are on the rise, so Mainers need to proactively protect themselves.”

Lyme cases fell to 1,370 in 2018 before rebounding last year. There was a late surge in reporting 2019 cases, with more than 500 confirmed in January.

“Cumulative reporting of Lyme disease cases takes more time because the process of confirming a Lyme disease diagnosis often takes longer than for anaplasmosis or babesiosis,” the Maine CDC said of two other tick-borne diseases.

There were 685 cases of anaplasmosis in 2019 – also a new record – and 138 cases of babesiosis.

Scientists still have much to learn about tickborne diseases, and a new federal law sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine – the TICK Act – includes $100 million in federal spending. The money will be doled out in $20 million annual increments over five years, and will award grants to state health departments to “improve data collection and analysis, support early detection and diagnosis, improve treatment and raise awareness.”

Nationally, there were 42,743 reported cases of Lyme disease in 2017 – the most recent year national statistics were available. The actual number of Lyme cases is much higher than the reported cases – by as much as 10 times – because many people are not tested or recover at home, the U.S. CDC said.

For more information on Lyme disease, go to www.maine.gov/lyme

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