Chesterton Tribune

Indiana sees 82 percent spike in Lyme disease cases

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LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana’s confirmed human cases of Lyme disease soared 82 percent over a five-year period, and experts say the surge might have been caused by an increase in the tiny ticks that spread the illness to humans.

The Journal & Courier reported that Lyme disease cases in Indiana rose from 34 in 2005 to 62 in 2009, the most recent year for which detailed data has been released.

Health officials aren’t sure what’s behind the increase, but theories range from an upswing in reporting of cases to an increase in ticks infected with the Lyme disease bacterium.

Deer ticks, which are black-legged and about the size of sesame seeds, feed on deer and can pick up the bacterium when they also feed on white-footed mice. Infected ticks then spread it to humans by feeding on them.

Purdue University entomologist Timothy Gibb said the deer tick is most likely being transported south and east across the state on the backs of deer, especially as the state’s deer population increases.

Antibiotics easily cure most people of Lyme disease. But early symptoms are vague and flu-like, except for Lyme’s hallmark round, red rash. People who aren’t treated can develop arthritis, meningitis and some other serious illnesses.

“Chances of transmission are pretty slim but still the consequences of the disease are serious enough that we’ve got to be careful about it,” Gibb said. “It’s prudent for people to use discretion as much as possible to prevent it.”

In northwestern Indiana, where a possible surge in cases has occurred, nearly 20 people at a recent town hall meeting in Ogden Dunes said they had Lyme disease.

Jennifer House, an epidemiologist with the state health department, said she could not confirm the number of Lyme disease cases in that area. She said the situation in Ogden Dunes, a town along Lake Michigan, is under review.

Gibb said it would not be surprising for that area to see a surge in cases since northwestern Indiana, northeastern Illinois and southern Wisconsin are “traditionally a hot spot for deer.” He said less than 3 percent of deer ticks — the only tick species that transmits Lyme disease — are infected with the bacterium.

Gibb said that as adults, deer ticks primarily feed on deer and not people. “So hunters or taxidermists who deal with deer will sometimes get the adult ticks on them,” he said. Other ticks such as the American dog tick are more common and often find their way onto humans, Gibb said.




Posted 9/6/2011