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Lyme Disease Cases Drop In Maryland and D.C.; Number Rises In Virginia

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By Sylvia Carignan

Cases of Lyme disease in Maryland and D.C. have fallen since last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in Virginia, the numbers have increased.

This week’s reports from the CDC show the number of cases of the disease in Virginia reached 155 between May 2009 and May 2010, while there were only 139 cases the year before.

Dr. Keri Hall, director of the Virginia Department of Health, calls the increase "a very important and emerging infection." The Virginia Health Commissioner sent a letter to all licensed Virginia health professionals, urging them to be vigilant of the disease, reports the Roanoke Times.

Although cases of Lyme disease have increased in Virginia, the CDC’s preliminary reports show a decrease in Maryland and D.C. cases. In Maryland, the number of reported cases decreased 20 percent: there were 359 cases between May 2009 and May 2010, down from 513 a year before. D.C. had far fewer cases: three this year and nine last year.

Even with the decrease in cases reported in Maryland, there is "absolutely" still a risk of getting the disease, says Maryland Recreation and Parks Association Wildlife Ecologist Ryan Butler.

"Anywhere there are ticks, Lyme disease is a risk," says Butler. He says tick bites are most dangerous when the ticks are in their nymph stage, before the insects are fully mature.

"They’re smaller than the head of a pin, and you can’t always feel them crawling on you," he says. Butler says he thinks the increase in the local deer and rodent population may contribute to a jump in Lyme disease cases, since deer and rodents are the most common carriers of the disease.

Much of the East Coast, from Virginia up to southern Maine, is a hot spot for Lyme disease-carrying ticks, according to the CDC.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans from infected deer ticks or black-legged ticks. The disease itself is caused by bacteria, which is usually treated in the early stages by prescribed antibiotics. Symptoms include fever, chills, joint pain, and a rash that spreads from the bite to other parts of the body, as stated on the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s website.

People who are at the most risk for contracting Lyme disease are those who participate frequently in outdoor activities near wooded areas. The easiest way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick-infested areas, and check your skin and clothing for ticks, according to the DHMH.

For more information, visit the DHMH’s page on Lyme disease.

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