Initial reports suggested that 2017 was a really bad year for Lyme disease, and the official tally released this month confirms that.

Cases of Lyme disease reached new highs in Pennsylvania and in Lancaster County, according to information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The tally shows 29,513 confirmed cases of Lyme disease nationwide, 9,250 in Pennsylvania and 564 cases in Lancaster County. Adding probable cases brings the totals to 42,743 nationwide and 11,900 in Pennsylvania.

Last year, the confirmed case totals were 26,203 nationwide and 8,988 in Pennsylvania. Past totals for Lancaster County were 456 in 2016; 516 in 2015; and 153 in 2014.

Lyme disease is spread by ticks, and if untreated can blow up to cause chronic and debilitating arthritis, fatigue, impaired motor functions and senses, an enlarged heart, and even death in rare cases. When caught promptly and treated with antibiotics, full recovery is the norm.

The CDC issued a statement saying the increase “follows an accelerating trend of tickborne diseases reported in the United States.”

“Between 2004 and 2016, the number of reported cases of tickborne disease doubled, and researchers discovered seven new tickborne pathogens that infect people,” it said.

The CDC also noted that studies suggest that the actual number of people who get Lyme disease could be 10 times higher than the reported number of cases.

How it compares

More people in Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with Lyme disease than in any other state each year since 2011, and that didn't change. The next closest were New York with a total of 5,155 confirmed and suspected cases, and New Jersey with 5,092.

Lancaster County had the third-highest number of cases in the state for 2017, following Butler County in the Pittsburgh area at 658 and neighboring Chester County at 628.

For the other counties that border Lancaster, the CDC showed 142 cases in Berks, 240 in Dauphin, 160 in Lebanon and 411 in York.

The report also measures incidence — how many cases there are for each 100,000 people. Lancaster ranked 29th-lowest at 105, meaning that roughly one of every 1,000 residents got Lyme disease.

Pennsylvania averages 173 cases per 100,000 residents, and the rate is highest in Jefferson County in western Pennsylvania, where the rate is 658 cases per 100,000 residents.

Lyme cases are diagnosed most during the summer months of June, July and August, according to the CDC.

This year

The CDC reports lag a year, so there’s no official word on how bad ticks were this year.

But as of August, reports from local health systems indicated they weren’t seeing a big uptick from last year.

Danielle Gilmore, spokeswoman for UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster and Lititz, said the hospitals had “seen a few patients with tick bites that did not result in Lyme symptoms or disease,” and that the number of cases was comparable to last year.

Danielle Gilmore, spokeswoman for UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster and Lititz, said the hospitals had “seen a few patients with tick bites that did not result in Lyme symptoms or disease,” and that the number of cases was comparable to last year.

Barbara Schindo is spokeswoman for Penn State Health, which centers on Hershey Medical Center in Dauphin County and has about a dozen primary care practices in Lancaster County.

She wrote in an email that from Jan. 1 to Aug. 17 of this year Penn State Health had 77 positive tests for recent or current Lyme infections — and that was fewer positive tests than for the same time period in 2017.

Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious diseases at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said Lyme is typically managed as an outpatient disease but Lancaster General Hospital had seen about 20 inpatient cases from January to mid-August.

Dr. Paul Avadanian, who practices at WellSpan Family Medicine - Lake Street in Ephrata, estimated he saw maybe one to two people a week with tick bites or Lyme disease and said that has been pretty steady over the last five years.

“It’s getting more attention, and it needs to, because it’s becoming an epidemic,” he said.

Avadanian noted that he got Lyme disease himself in 2012, and it took a while to figure out in part because the first test didn’t come up positive.

“I had a spinal tap because I thought I had multiple sclerosis,” he said, describing his “new normal” as “about 85 percent of what I was before.

He encourages people who think they might have Lyme to seek out a doctor who specializes in treating the disease, he said.

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