Incidents of Lyme disease on the rise in Maine

Posted May 07, 2009, at 9:25 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Incidents of Lyme disease are on the rise in Maine and the ailment will be the topic of two presentations next week.

Dr. Beatrice Szantyr, an expert on ticks and Lyme disease, will lead a discussion and answer questions about Lyme disease at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

The annual Midcoast Maine Women’s Health Conference on May 15-16 also will address the topic during a workshop on Saturday, May 16.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1997 there were 34 reported cases of Lyme disease, and in 2007 there were 529. Most at risk are people who spend time in brushy or wooded areas.

Two individuals are being treated for the disease at Waldo County General Hospital, according to a spokesperson.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria spread by ticks. It is important to remove ticks as soon as possible because infected ticks spread the disease after being attached to a person for 36 hours.

One sign of Lyme disease is a round, red rash that spreads at the site of a tick bite. The rash can get very large. But according to some studies, the rash is thought to occur in only 50 to 80 percent of infected patients.

Other common signs are flulike symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, sore muscles and joints, and fever. A blood test can be done to check for antibodies in the blood that could mean a people has contracted the disease, but these tests can be falsely negative in some.

Dr. Richard Dubocq of Lincolnville, who will present a workshop on Lyme disease at next weekend’s Midcoast Maine Women’s Health Conference, got involved with the disease in the late 1990s when his wife was bitten by a deer tick on Monhegan Island, according to conference spokeswoman Toni Mailloux. She was treated with antibiotics but started feeling ill around Christmas. The couple initially chalked it up to holiday stress, but her condition grew worse and she appeared to have Lyme disease symptoms.

Dubocq said no one would treat his wife for the disease and instead suggested many other possible diagnoses. The couple wound up going to New York City where she was treated with two antibiotics for a year and got “totally, absolutely better,” he said.

Dubocq said the problem with getting treatment is that medicine is “evidence-based,” and insurance companies need a positive test to approve treatment. The tests now available are inaccurate, he said. His wife, for example, had all of the classic symptoms except the rash, but the test was negative.

Lyme is a disease that must be diagnosed based on symptoms described by the patient, Dubocq said. Insurance companies are often reluctant to cover treatment because the antibiotics are expensive and need to be administered for some time.

The main treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics, which usually cure it within weeks of starting treatment. Some Lyme disease patients, however, complete a round of antibiotic treatments and continue to exhibit symptoms.

Lyme disease may be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis because of similar symptoms.

The disease got its name from a group of children who lived near one another in Lyme, Conn., who all had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1975. Researchers later discovered there was a bacterial cause for the children’s condition and it became known as Lyme disease in 1982.

The second annual Midcoast Maine Women’s Health Conference, Nutrition for a Healthy Heart: Body, Mind & Spirit will take place Friday and Saturday, May 15-16, at Point Lookout on Route 1 in Northport. For more information call 930-2694 or e-mail womenshealth@wchi.com.

wgriffin@bangordailynews.net

338-9546

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