After a seemingly interminable February, March has arrived, bringing with it visions of spring and time spent in the blooming, blossoming outdoors. With those daydreams, of course, comes the threat of disease carried by New England’s wide array of hardy, voracious insects.
And if a new report from the state is correct, the spread of one of those diseases, Lyme disease, has been widely underreported, with one state legislator calling it a public health epidemic.
As many as 14,000 cases of Lyme disease are confirmed in Massachusetts each year, according to the state Department of Public Health. Officials, however, estimate that the actual number of cases may be 10 times that number.
“We need to let people know how prevalent Lyme disease is in Massachusetts,” state Rep. David Linsky, part of a state legislative commission looking in to the issue, told The Associated Press last week. “If you ask friends and ask your neighbors, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been touched by this.”
The disease is spread to humans from tick bites. Symptoms of the disease in its early stages include the presence of a bull’s-eye pattern around the bite, a rash and flu-like symptoms. Left untreated, the disease can progress to include severe joint pain, fatigue and neurological problems.
It is important to catch the disease early, when treatment with antibiotics is most effective.
The commission made several recommendations aimed at fighting the spread of the disease, including spraying pesticides to control ticks. That could mean expanding the role of local mosquito control districts. Other suggestions include allowing for expanded crossbow hunting to help control the deer population, which carries Lyme-transmitting ticks, and pumping up public information campaigns.
The commission also suggests requiring insurers to cover treatment of the disease.