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Cases of Lyme, other tick-borne disease surge again in Maine

Blacklegged ticks — also called deer ticks — are tiny. This adult female is about the size of a sesame seed.
Stephen Reiss for NPR
Blacklegged ticks — also called deer ticks — are tiny. This adult female is about the size of a sesame seed.

Cases of several tick-borne diseases surged again in Maine last year, according to a new report from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease increased 35 percent in Maine year-over-year, with 1,508 new infections reported in the state in 2021. While that’s less than the 2,174 new cases reported in 2019, the Maine CDC noted that the number of actual cases could be more than 10 times higher based on federal estimates. And the agency said changes to the way Lyme disease is reported and tracked by the state starting this year could result in significant jump in new cases – perhaps as much as 50 to 100 percent increase – moving forward because they will be based on lab results alone.

Lyme disease, which is transmitted by infected deer ticks, often manifests as a rash and can be accompanied by fever, headaches, fatigue and joint paints. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause arthritis, facial palsy and heart problems. Health care providers reported that 33 patients were hospitalized with Lyme disease in Maine last year.

There were cases of Lyme disease in every county in Maine last year, although half of all of the new Lyme cases occurred in six southern or coastal counties: Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo.

In its annual report to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, the Maine CDC also reported a 90 percent increase in anaplasmosis cases as well as a 200 percent increase in cases of babesiosis, both of which are also transmitted from deer ticks. The 841 cases of anaplasmosis – which can cause severe disease or death – is a new record for the state.

The Maine CDC is also tracking several new or emerging tick-borne diseases, including Powassan and Spotted fever Rickettsiosis.

Following is a breakdown of the number of cases reported statewide by Maine CDC in 2021, based on preliminary information:

  • Lyme disease – 1,508
  • Anaplasmosis – 841
  • Babesiosis – 201
  • Borrelia miyamotoi – 9
  • Ehrlichiosis – 4
  • Powassan – 3
  • Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis – 2