Maine experiences influx of Lyme disease
Students on the Hill are reminded to be wary of ticks as campus starts to warm up in the spring months, especially due to the severe health risks associated with tick bites.
Maine has already seen a sharp increase in reported cases of Lyme disease during the early months of the year, and experts are predicting a record number of cases during the remainder of 2010.
In January and February alone, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 50 cases of Lyme disease, up from a median of 15 cases for the same two months over the previous five years.
There are several reasons for the increase in cases of Lyme disease in Maine, State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears said.
The greatest cause for this year's increase is a growing number of ticks. Deer ticks, compared to dog ticks, are very small and carry the disease. The cases that have been reported this year are likely the results of infections confirmed last fall.
"If you think about the past year, it was exceedingly warm right into November. We hardly had a winter at all," Sears said in a press release. "That's one of the interesting aspects of this. We're seeing in general a warmer fall and a warmer spring, so the time frame for these diseases is extended."
While ticks normally do not emerge until mid-April when the snow melts and the ground thaws, this year many ticks never went into a hibernation phase due to the abnormal warmth. Maine has also seen a rise in small rodent populations, which are the most notorious carriers of deer ticks.
An increase in ticks and in warm weather are not the only factors that have contributed to the higher number of reported cases of Lyme disease. Local residents are becoming more attentive to symptoms of the disease, resulting in a higher number of reported cases to the CDC.
While the majority of cases of Lyme disease that were reported in 2009 came from York and Cumberland counties, 27 percent and 28.5 percent respectively, Waterville is not immune from ticks.
Students are encouraged to take extra precaution during the remaining weeks on campus, as well as at home throughout the summer. They are urged to avoid walking in the woods, but if they do, they should be sure to apply insect repellent to their skin and clothing beforehand.
Tick checks are also important because deer ticks do not imbed in the skin for 24 to 48 hours. Students are advised to wear light-colored clothing when walking in the woods to make the ticks easier to see when they check themselves afterwards.
Early signs of infection include a ring-like rash around the bite and flu-like symptoms. Looking out for these early signs is key, as Lyme disease is easiest to treat in the earliest stages. Later signs and symptoms, which don't occur for months or even years after the bite, include arthritis and neurological, memory, concentration and heart problems.
If students do discover a tick bite, they are encouraged to get it examined at the Health Center as soon as possible.