State Health Leaders Dispute CDC's Claim of Drop in Lyme Disease Cases

A top Massachusetts health official says the CDC's numbers on Lyme disease cases don't reflect reality

Tiny ticks can carry some serious diseases with them, including Lyme disease, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 95-percent drop in Lyme disease cases in Massachusetts in just one year.

“If only that were true!” exclaimed Massachusetts Department of Public Health Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown.

Dr. Brown says those numbers don’t reflect reality.

That’s because the CDC only allows states to count Lyme disease cases with both a positive lab test and clinical diagnosis.

“This was an extraordinarily burdensome system, not just for us in the department but for our local boards of health and also for our health care providers,” Dr. Brown said.

In 2016, DPH stopped spending time and resources trying to track down the clinical information, instead relying solely on positive lab results to give a more accurate estimate of Lyme disease case numbers.

And what they found is, instead of a 95-percent drop, the numbers stayed almost exactly the same year to year.

“I think DPH’s decision was spot on correct. They know that they’re working with a flawed reporting system that is unfixable,” said entomologist Larry Dapsis, the Tick Project Coordinator with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

Dapsis says the message this should send to people is to remain vigilant – use repellants and check for ticks when you’ve been outside – because the best way to reduce these numbers is to prevent tick bites in the first place.

“You’ve got to not be tick afraid, but tick aware,” said Dapsis.

Dr. Brown says with the amount of time the Department of Public Health has been able to save not trying to track down clinical diagnoses of Lyme disease cases, they’ve actually been able to spend more time studying Lyme in hopes of being able to prevent more cases in the future.

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