With more Lyme disease, public health experts call for more awareness, research
Excerpted from the Portland Press Herald : (08/29/2014)
Lisa Lawlor spends most of her waking hours in bed, swallowing 25 pills each day to manage numerous Lyme disease-related symptoms. She receives antibiotics three times per day, intravenously into her left arm. Although she can walk, she often uses a wheelchair because she is so weak. The joint pain, inflammation and fatigue never completely go away, and the Saco resident often experiences nausea.
Lawlor’s symptoms are worse than most Lyme sufferers, but she’s far from alone in coping with the disease and its aftermath.
While Lyme disease is not new to Maine, the number of people diagnosed each year is growing rapidly. Broader public awareness, more research into how the disease works, and tools to treat and prevent it are needed, public health officials say.
Lyme disease diagnoses hit a record high of 1,376 cases in 2013, with this year shaping up to be similar to last year, according to officials with the Maine Centers for Disease Control. And many more Mainers are likely to have been bitten by ticks.
“Scientists believe it’s 10 times more prevalent than what is actually reported,” said Susan Elias, clinical research associate at Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s “tick lab.” If true, about 1 percent of Mainers per year will have contracted Lyme disease over the past two years.
The reason: Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks, is often under-reported. The symptoms run the gamut, with some people shrugging off flu-like complaints after a week or two and others suffering for years with severe problems.
Public health officials are grappling with a disease that just a decade ago was diagnosed in fewer than 100 Mainers per year.
A new report by the National Wildlife Federation said warming global temperatures, caused by fossil fuel consumption, have increased the habitat available for ticks. Warmer winters, hotter summers and high temperatures that extend into autumn make conditions ripe for ticks to reproduce and spread.