The tick-borne disease anaplasmosis on the rise in Maine.
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, the number of cases of the disease has grown from a little more than a dozen about a decade ago to 500 so far this year. Public health officials say the increase mirrors the movement of Lyme disease into Maine years ago.
As state epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett runs through the reported cases of anaplasmosis year by year, the numbers at first hold steady in the teens.
“In 2008 there were 17. 2009, 15,” she says.
But then, they start to grow.
“2015, 186,” Bennett says.
As of last week, there have been 500 reported cases in 2017.
“This year, we’re seeing more cases. It’s hard to know why. I suspect partly because it’s been such a mild fall. Ticks are out, and more importantly, people are out,” Bennett says.
Chuck Lubelczyk at the Maine Medical Center Vector-Borne Disease Lab says the increase may also be partly due to more awareness and testing. But he is seeing more ticks with the disease in the field.
“Back in the the ’90s, there were very low levels of it around, and it has slowly increased. We have some areas of the state where we do surveillance where we might have 10 percent of the population of ticks are infected with anaplasma,” he says.
Forty-five percent of cases reported to the CDC are from Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties. But Lubelczyk says ticks with anaplasma are also found in York and Cumberland counties, all the way up to the outskirts of Hancock County.
“In many ways, it’s like Lyme disease 2.0. So we’re seeing a lot of the same geographic and distribution patterns that happened when Lyme disease first appeared in the Maine landscape,” he says.
Also like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is a bacterial infection spread through deer ticks. And the symptoms are similar.
“Fever, headache, chills, muscle aches,” Bennett says.
She says if you feel like you’ve got the flu and have been exposed to ticks through outdoor activities or pets, see your doctor for testing. And as always, Lubelczyk says, it’s important to take a line of defense to prevent tick bites in the first place.
“It’s kind of that boring message we give out every year that does actually work,” he says.
Which is, wear long sleeves, pants and socks; use repellent; and do frequent tick checks on yourself, your family and pets. Finally, Lubelczyk says, don’t let the colder temperatures lull you into indifference. Fall is a big tick season in Maine.
As of last week, he says, ticks were in high numbers across the state.
This story was originally published Nov. 13, 2017 at 11:03 a.m. ET.