From 2012 to 2018, the number of reported Lyme disease cases in the state rose 592%, from 97 confirmed cases to 671, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

As of July 25, there have been 288 reported Lyme disease cases in the state this year, an increase from the 274 cases at the same point in 2018, said Eric Dotseth, DHHR public health entomologist.

The number of cases through July 24 of this year is likely to change as confirmed and probable cases change

. “Unfortunately, the case counts often increase,” Dotseth said.

The disease is also likely underreported because of the difficulty health-care providers sometimes have in diagnosing it.

“Lyme has been nicknamed the ’The Great Imitator’ because its symptoms mimic many other diseases,” said Dr. Mark Povroznik, chief quality officer and chairman of infection control at United Hospital Center.

“It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart,” Povroznik said.

The disease is transmitted to humans by the blacklegged tick, more commonly known as the deer tick, and is often characterized by the bull’s eye-shaped rash around a bite, according to Povroznik. The rash does not occur in every case of Lyme disease, however.

Early symptoms are often reminiscent of the flu, including fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea and joint pain. Some people develop facial drooping.

If detected and treated early with antibiotics, Lyme disease patients often recover rapidly and completely. Without early treatment or when early treatment is inadequate, it can progress to late-stage or chronic illness. It can spread to any part of the body and affect any body system. In some cases, it can be fatal, Povroznik said.

Early treatment of the illness is important, but prevention is best.

The CDC recommends wearing EPA-registered insect repellents, wearing clothes treated with permethrin when outdoors, showering as soon as possible after time outdoors and checking for ticks daily, including under the armpits, behind the knees, in the groin and in the hair.

After time spent outdoors, clothes can be tumble-dried on high heat for 10 minutes if dry, or longer if wet, to kill any ticks, the CDC says.

If a tick is found on your skin, it should be removed immediately, as infection risk increases the longer the tick is attached.

Although all deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, it is often transmitted by young deer ticks known as nymphs, which are no larger than the size of a poppyseed. Because of their small size, nymphs often go undetected for long periods of time.

To remove a tick, the CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, then pulling upward with steady, even pressure. Twisting or jerking motions should be avoided. After the tick is removed, wash the area and hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

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