FALMOUTH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Public health officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control are urging people to be vigilant about their exposure to ticks when enjoying the outdoors.
Since the mid-1980's, when lyme disease first started to appear in Maine, the number of people who have become infected with tick borne diseases has grown steadily. While the majority of those people who became infected lived in or visited southern, coastal Maine, the disease has spread to all counties in the state.
"You know, growing up, I was pretty much unaware of ticks," admitted State Epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Sears, who was born in Portland. "[In the mid-80's] we'd see a dozen, two dozen [cases of lyme disease]. This year we have already seen 500. We saw 1000 cases last year."
But lyme disease is not the only tick borne illness that has caught Dr. Sears' attention.
"Ticks carry multiple diseases and it shouldn't be surprising that we are hearing about another one," he explained. "Lyme is still the one we are most concerned about because it is the most common, but we want to make sure people know about these other diseases."
Sears says anaplasmosis, another disease which can be transmitted to people and pets when bitten by an infected tick, has been slowly increasing over the past six or seven years.
"The diseases that we know are out there, and we are really talking about anaplasma but there is also another one called babesia, are all carried by the same tick," said Dr. Sears. "And so the good news is, the same things you do to try to prevent you getting exposed to ticks that you do for lyme disease, works for these other diseases. The real message though is the diseases are different, and so if you get a tick bite and you don't see a rash, but then you might have some other symptoms such as fever, chills or body aches, you need to think about these other diseases and get it checked out because they are treatable, but they are best treated early on."
It is not only people, but pets, especially dogs, that are at risk from tick borne illnesses.
"We definitely saw an increase in the number of clinical cases of lyme and other tick borne diseases that were walking through our door," said Dr. Alden Chadbourne, a veterinarian at the Brackett Street Veterinary Clinic in Portland.
"They don't get the tell-tale skin rash, and they can't talk to you, but a dog that has a clinical tick borne disease often is letting you know in other ways," she explained. "They are usually uncomfortable, stiff and sore, lethargic, may even start crying out when you going to touch them, because they hurt all over, just the same as a lot of people with tick borne diseases will talk about."
While there are vaccines that help fight lyme disease available for dogs, the vaccine doesn't help prevent anaplasmosis.
"Using some sort of product, unfortunately that often means chemicals, but using some sort of product is hands down the best way to stop the transmission of tick borne disease," stated Dr. Chadbourne.
Dr. Sears suggests people use insecticides before going out and doing thorough tick checks after walking through the woods or tall grass as the best ways to help prevent getting a tick borne disease.