AUGUSTA (AP) – Deer ticks have expanded their range deeper into Maine and brought with them an increased risk of Lyme disease.

Experts say both the relatively harmless dog tick and the Lyme disease-carrying deer tick are spreading to parts of the state where they previously have not been. And as tick populations have grown, Maine Bureau of Health officials have seen a corresponding increase in cases of Lyme disease.

In the late 1980s, there were only a handful of Lyme disease cases in Maine, said Geoff Beckett, assistant state epidemiologist. In 1999, 90 Lyme disease cases were reported. Last year, there were 175 reported cases.

“Maine is one of 12 U.S. states that account for 95 percent of Lyme disease cases. If you live in the Northeast in 2004, you need to be aware tick-borne diseases are here. And there are precautions you need to take,” Beckett said.

Lyme disease can result in nervous system problems, memory loss, chronic muscle pain, fatigue, paralysis of facial muscles, meningitis and difficulty concentrating. The disease is transmitted by an infected deer tick.

In other parts of the country, dog ticks have been associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In Maine, the common dog tick has not been known to be a vector for Lyme disease.

Chuck Lubelczyk, a field biologist who tracks tick populations for the Vector Borne Disease Research Laboratory at Maine Medical Research Center in Portland, said he has seen an increase in the number of both types of ticks.

“With deer ticks, it used to be you could only reliably find them in coastal York County. Now you can find them up to Augusta with regularity. And dog ticks are pretty widespread throughout the state,” he said.

Lubelczyk and other field biologists track tick populations by trapping mice on which ticks are known to feed. This year Lubelczyk has been catching fewer mice, which means ticks may find their way to people instead.

Beckett said the reasons for growing tick populations involve fairly complex ecological variables. One factor in the number of ticks could be the increasing trend of people building homes in woods and fields, he said.

“There is less separation between people and ticks than there would have been 20 years ago,” he said.

Officials said one of the best precautions against Lyme disease is an insect repellent containing DEET.


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