Is there a Lyme Disease epidemic in New York?

A bulls-eye rash characteristic of Lyme Disease. Photo by Hannah Garrison via Wikimedia Commons.

The Greene County Legislature's education committee got an earful about the dangers of Lyme Disease yesterday from a Cornell educator who is convinced that the tick-borne disease has reached "epidemic" proportions in New York state.

Richard Burstell, an Agriculture & Natural Resources Program Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, told Greene County legislators that he has had trouble raising awareness about the disease, according to the Daily Mail:

“There has been a large increase of Lyme disease cases and preventative measures are needed ... This problem continues to grow. We have sought out some economic help. We try to offer classes for physicians but they prefer to send people to us."

Burstell suggested that counties that rely on tourist dollars may be reluctant to spread the word about a disease that's hiding in their bucolic landscapes:

Burstell said he understood the sensitivity of the subject because of the Hudson Valley’s strong dependence on tourism.

“I understand this affects commerce. We do want to bring people here but I want them to be educated,” Burstell said.

Greene County already has a Lyme Disease awareness program, as you can see here. But Burstell is right -- according to the New York State Department of Health, there have been more confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in New York than in any other state -- over 95,000 since 1986.

Last fall, the Daily Freeman took a look at what Lyme Disease can do to a person in an article about Eric Rutulante, who writes about living with Lyme Disease in Ulster County on his blog, LymeBites. A few weeks ago, Rutulante described the way his every waking moment is colored by the disease:

I’m on day 7 of my first real break in symptoms in over a year.  Luckily about a month or two ago I had a 4 day streak that was AMAZING.  But until that point I hadn’t had a good day in almost a year.  And then I have this little reprieve here, and it’s been great ... I want to talk about the less good good days.  I rate each day on a scale of 0-5.  It helps me to track patterns in treatment.  It was so amazing this week to be able to put high ratings, the highest I’ve had like I said in over a year.  And then yesterday the excitement of my weekend caught up with me.  I still felt wonderful in comparison to the past several weeks…month…years actually.  But I was tired.  At the end of the day it was a bit of a let down that the day wasn’t as good as the last two.  Yet it was still better than anything I’ve known in a long time.