Maine is seeing record numbers of a disease carried by ticks that doesn’t get as much attention as Lyme, but can be just as dangerous.
So far this year, 38 cases of the bacterial infection anaplasmosis have been reported in Maine, according to a Thursday alert from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than all of 2011, when Maine had 26 cases of the disease.
The infection is caused by a germ called Anaplasma phagocytophilum.
“Everybody’s heard about Lyme disease but they maybe haven’t heard about anaplasma,” said Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist.
Carried by the same deer tick as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is no longer rare in Maine like it was a few years ago, he said.
“It seems to be increasing not only in the numbers but in its distribution,” Sears said. “It’s being seen a little farther up the coast and a little deeper into the interior sections.”
Anaplasmosis has been found in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Somerset and York counties so far this year. Other parts of the country that have high rates of Lyme disease are also seeing anaplasmosis on the rise, Sears said.
While the drug treatment for anaplasmosis is similar to the treatment for Lyme disease, the infection doesn’t cause Lyme’s hallmark bull’s eye rash, Sears said. It’s a different organism that leads to severe flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, fever and headache, he said.
The disease can be diagnosed through a blood test, and the sooner sufferers get treatment, the better, Sears said. Anaplasma lives in white blood cells, causing all-over discomfort as the cells circulate through the body, he said. Symptoms typically appear within one to two weeks of a tick bite.
The disease can be serious in people with weak immune systems, he said.
Most anaplasmosis occurs in the late summer and fall, so cases are predicted to keep rising, he said.
“We’re expecting that this is going to be a pretty big year, so we want to get the word out,” Sears said.