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Spread By Deer Ticks, Lyme Disease Has Been Underestimated In Md.

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- It looks like Lyme disease may have been underestimated with tens of thousands of cases going unreported. The disease can have serious aftereffects.

Alex DeMetrick reports that makes finding the numbers crucial.

Ick may rhyme with tick, but so does sick. And a lot more people may be exposed to Lyme disease carried by deer ticks than previously supposed.

"The trick to Lyme disease is to understand exactly how many Lyme disease cases are being missed, and what the CDC is reporting is it's nearly a factor of tenfold," said Katherine Feldman, Maryland Health Department.

The usual 30,000 nationwide cases reported to the CDC each year could be 300,000.

It turns out many doctors either don't report all cases or exposure to the disease is missed.

The red bullseye rash where an infected tick bites is a frequent warning sign, but "the bullseye is apparent in 70-80 percent of cases, which means 20-30 percent of cases may either not be recognized, or it may not be there," Feldman said.

Last year, Maryland had more than 1,600 reported cases of Lyme disease. But if the CDC study is right, that number jumps to 16,000.

Or maybe it doesn't.

The CDC study isn't breaking it down by state. It's a national survey, grouping all the hotspots for Lyme disease together.

"Maryland, unfortunately, is one of the states where Lyme disease is highly endemic," Feldman said.

That's because shrinking natural habitat has put deer, deer ticks and people closer together.

The best protection: wear long pants and sleeves in wooded or brushy areas. Make sure clothing is light-colored to better see ticks. Use deer repellent. Treat pets for ticks.

And even if there is no bullseye rash, "and they develop flu-like symptoms, they [should] let their medical provider know they've been in tick habitat," Feldman said.

Because the disease they carry can advance into arthritis and neurological problems.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, and is most successfully treated with antibiotics within a few weeks of exposure.

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