Nearly 300,000 people each year contract Lyme disease, about 10 times as many as previously reported, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies reported this week.
The studies emphasize that the debilitating disease, transmitted by ticks, is a major public health concern nationwide.
In South Carolina, this is one health concern where we don’t rank near the bottom. South Carolina reported 37 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease in 2011. Based on the studies, that means there actually were 370 cases. In terms of incidences per 100,000 people, South Carolina ranks 18th among states.
The disease is much more common in states in the Northeast and the Midwest. Pennsylvania, with 5,362 reported cases last year, had the worst statistics. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin also had more than 1,000 reported cases.
Different ticks in different regions are carriers of the bacteria that cause the disease – the deer tick in the Northeast and Midwest and the black-legged tick in the South. While South Carolina has plenty of black-legged ticks, they don’t seem to be as efficient at spreading the disease as the ticks in the Northeast and Midwest.
But if you were one of those 370 people in the state to contract the disease in 2011, those statistics mean little to you. It’s a serious problem, beginning usually with a rash and then moving to flu-like symptoms of headache, muscle ache and fatigue. It can lead to severe joint point and numbness in hands and feet. If the disease remains undiagnosed, the symptoms can last for years.
Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics, but treatment works better if symptoms are diagnosed early. The best defense is to keep ticks away in the first place.
People can help prevent tick bits by using repellents and doing tick checks when they return from trips to the woods, said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.
And if you notice a tick bite, seek medical help quickly if you notice any Lyme disease symptoms.
For more information on the recent CDC reports: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0819-lyme-disease.html