Lyme disease, the tick-borne bane of people and pets, is predicted to pose a higher than normal threat this year in parts of the United States, according to Clemson University and the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).
Disease hot spots are expected to occur along the Oregon and Washington state coastlines, the Great Lakes region, New England and the Mid-Atlantic, researchers reported this week.
As a service to dog and cat owners, CAPC will issue regular email updates and alerts about Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, intestinal parasites and heartworm. Registration is available at PetsAndParasites.org.
The CAPC website also offers parasite prevalence maps clickable by county and broken down by the number of diagnosed cases of each disease.
The map data is provided by Idexx Laboratories of Westbrook, Maine, and Antech Diagnostics of Irvine, Calif.
In developing the forecast tool, the Clemson team relied on some of the methods used in severe weather forecasting.
"The ever-evolving CAPC Parasite Forecast model combines historical data such as parasitic disease test results from veterinary clinics across the country and changing variables that include weather conditions, vegetation indices, wildlife populations, human population density and human disease prevalence,” said Clemson professor Robert Lund, Ph.D.
CAPC, based in Bel Air, Md., acknowledged that the data does not represent the total number of positive tests.
"Instead, we estimate it represents less than 30 percent of the activity in the geographic regions,” stated the nonprofit group, made up of veterinary parasitologists.
While the data used in the forecasting and maps may not be 100 percent accurate, CAPC called it "statistically significant” and serving as a "strong representation of the parasite activity for each area.”
Here is an example of the data available as of May 2:
Tuolumne County, Calif.
• 3 out of 122 dogs tested, or 2.45 percent, were positive for Lyme disease.
• 0.58 percent of all positive cases of Lyme disease in California occurred in Tuolumne County.
• 1 in every 162 dogs tested was positive for ehrlichiosis.
Lancaster County, Pa.
• 215 out of 2,909 dogs tested, or 7.39 percent, were positive for Lyme disease.
• 1.83 percent of all positive cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania occurred in Lancaster County.
• 1 in every 40 dogs tested was positive for anaplasmosis.
• 1 in every 21 cats tested was positive for roundworm.
• 0.71 percent of cats tested were positive for hookworm.
• 6.56 percent of dogs tested were positive for Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs often include lameness due to inflammation of the joints, lack of appetite and depression.
The numbers show the need for preventive care, said CAPC executive director Chris Carpenter, DVM.
"While virtually all infestations of parasites are preventable, estimates indicate that fewer than half of the dogs in the country are protected,” Dr. Carpenter said.
CAPC recommended that dogs and cats, especially those in Lyme hot spots, be treated year-round with monthly applications of tick-and-flea medication. The organization urged that routine veterinary checks become part of the routine, too.
"Prevention is easy and relatively affordable when compared to the cost and heartache of treating a sick pet,” Carpenter added.