Lyme Disease: Officials Concerned by Increase in Massachusetts Cases

A 50% increase in the number of new Lyme Disease cases in humans reported in Massachusetts from 2004 to 2005 is prompting concerned public health officials to step up efforts to educate the public about preventative measures.

There were 2,336 new cases of Lyme disease reported in the state in 2005, compared to 1,532 the previous year, according to statistics released on Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, there was an 18 percent increase.

The state is distributing educational pamphlets to public libraries, schools, and workshops, state epidemiologist Bela Matyas said.

"Lyme disease is a significant public health burden," he said.

There were 1,890 reported new cases in 2002 in Massachusetts. That fell to 1,503 in 2003.

Lyme disease is caused by the bite of the deer tick that is infected with the bacteria that causes the illness. It can cause heart problems and arthritis-like symptoms if not treated early with antibiotics. Lyme disease has spread as deer have migrated into suburban areas, Matyas said. Cases were once concentrated on Cape Cod, the islands, and southeastern Massachusetts, but in recent years there have been more reported cases on the North Shore, as well as central and western Massachusetts.

The increased numbers may be attributable to better reporting by doctors trained to recognize symptoms, he said.

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The Associated Press

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