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Maine is facing a record surge in Lyme disease cases, reaching an all-time high in 2023. The rise is attributed to the expanding range of deer ticks and favorable conditions in certain regions. 

In a startling development, Maine has witnessed a significant surge in Lyme disease cases for the second consecutive year, reaching an all-time high of 2,904 cases in 2023, compared to 2,617 cases in the previous year. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the Midcoast and Down East regions experienced the highest concentration, with Knox County reporting a staggering 661 cases per 100,000 population.

Griffin Dill, an integrated pest management professional at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's tick lab, shed light on the expanding range of deer ticks, signaling a shift from Cumberland and York counties to the Midcoast and Down East. Dill suggested that while climate change may contribute to the deer tick's extended range, the recent prevalence in the Midcoast is primarily due to the ticks thriving in the region.

"The conditions (in the Midcoast and Down East) were probably always somewhat favorable, but the ticks hadn’t made it there yet. Now that they’ve arrived, they’re thriving, and that’s allowed their populations to expand," explained Dill.

Various factors, including weather conditions, nymph tick submissions, and the overall climate, may have contributed to the record number of Lyme cases in 2023. Notably, submissions to the tick lab indicated a change, with more ticks in the nymph stage being sent in, comprising 30% of all submissions compared to 15% in the previous period.

Ticks in the nymph stage are challenging to detect on the human body but are more likely to transmit Lyme disease as they remain attached for an extended period. According to the U.S. CDC, a tick needs to be attached for at least 36-48 hours before transmitting Lyme disease.

While Lyme disease reached a new record, the two other prevalent tick-borne diseases in Maine, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis, experienced slight downturns. Anaplasmosis cases decreased from 824 in 2022 to 744 in 2023, while babesiosis saw a slight reduction from 192 cases to 188.

Ongoing research at the University of Maine, fueled by a $6.2 million federal grant, aims to control tick populations, identify emerging tick species, and bolster public health efforts. The Maine CDC emphasizes the importance of education and awareness in combating the rise in tick-borne diseases.

As Maine grapples with this unprecedented surge in Lyme disease cases, health officials underscore the necessity for preventive measures. Residents are urged to take precautions such as wearing long pants and sleeves when in wooded areas, using insect repellent, and conducting thorough tick checks after exposure to tick habitats.

The situation is evolving, and health authorities are closely monitoring developments to effectively address the growing public health concern. Stay tuned for further updates as Maine works to mitigate the impact of this Lyme disease outbreak.


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