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CDC reports 35 percent drop in new Lyme disease cases

October 9, 1997

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The number of new Lyme disease cases nationwide dropped 35 percent this year, which experts attributed to the natural fluctuations in the population of ticks that carry the disease.

``I would say Lyme disease is still a problem,″ said Dr. Leonard H. Sigal, head of the Lyme Disease Center at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick. ``I don’t know if there’s a trend downward. You can’t make a trend on one year’s change.″

The figures published Oct. 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there were 7,348 cases reported in the United States as of Sept. 28, down from 11,440 last year.

The figures mirror findings of wide fluctuations in the number of ticks, the insects that carry the disease and pass it on to humans, said David Weld, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation in Somers, N.Y.

``There’s growing evidence the tick population is somewhat cyclical, up one year down the next,″ said Weld, whose organization works with a lab that has counted ticks for the past 12 years.

If the pattern continues, next year’s figures would be way up, he said.

Weld said public education should share some of the credit for reducing the number of Lyme disease cases.

``People are better educated about ticks now,″ he said. ``Maybe they do tick checks or are more careful about where they walk.″

Lyme disease, a bacterial affliction marked by high fever, aches and pains, can cause nervous system disorders and heart abnormalities unless treated by antibiotics. It is spread by ticks the size of a pinhead that live on deer and field mice.

Cases have been found in 43 states but it is most common in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The ticks are most active between April and October, but can be found year-round, Sigal said.

To limit exposure to Lyme disease, Sigal recommends avoiding the edges of wooded areas and doing a self-check for ticks after spending time outdoors.

``The best way to have a decrease in the trend is to have people learn about the disease and take personal precautions,″ he said.

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