September 11. 2013 11:49PM

NH infections: West Nile, 1; Lyme, 14,000?


This week New Hampshire confirmed its first human case of West Nile virus of the year. It was the ninth case since the virus was discovered in New Hampshire in 2000. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that Lyme disease infections in the United States are 10 times higher than the official figures. That would mean that New Hampshire’s 1,460 new Lyme infections in 2012 were actually 14,600 new infections. But there remains no public health effort to combat Lyme in New Hampshire.

Per official figures, Lyme infections nationwide typically total between 20,000 and 30,000 a year, almost all (95 percent) coming from 13 states. (New Hampshire consistently has among the top three Lyme infection rates in America.) But those official numbers were underreported, CDC officials have long believed. So they did a more comprehensive study that did not rely only on reports from physicians’ offices. They concluded that instead of 30,000 new cases a year, there are 300,000.

“This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention,” Dr. Paul Mead, the CDC’s chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC’s Lyme disease program, said in a news release.

Yet instead of taking actions to curb the expansion of this rapidly spreading, debilitating and potentially fatal virus, New Hampshire and other New England states (and municipalities) are concentrating public money and attention on the extremely rare West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. It is a completely unjustifiable confusion of priorities.