Despite prevalence of Lyme disease, NH provides only estimate of cases
Officials say thousands of cases reported, but official statistics show smaller count
Lyme disease is one of 60 diseases that are required by law to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services. State officials said close to 3,000 cases are reported each year, but the current number is an estimate because an exact count hasn’t been made since 2013.
“Since 2014, we’ve had some challenges keeping up with the volume of reports we’ve been receiving,” said Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.
Daly said all the funding for Lyme surveillance in the state comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency provides a $77,000 grant.
“We’ve dedicated those funds to two part-time positions to help us collect this information from health care providers,” Daly said.
The bureau started estimating Lyme disease cases in 2014 because of staffing shortages and budget limitations, Daly said. There is no state funding provided to track cases of the disease.
“We rank 39th in the country relative to state support for the work of public health,” said Lisa Morris, director of the Division of Public Health Services.
State officials admitted that the statistics posted about New Hampshire on the CDC website are way off. The site lists 691 confirmed cases of the disease in 2016, but state officials told News 9 that they receive 2,700 reports of the disease each year, a statistic that Daly said has remained stable over the past five years.
Lyme disease reporting is mandated, but surveillance methods among the top 14 states vary considerably, officials said.
“It’s only reflecting the number of cases that we have had the capacity to investigate,” Daly said. “They will not print our estimated number.”
Naturopath Julia Greenspan, who says she specializes in Lyme disease at Greenhouse Naturopathic Medicine, said she is alarmed that state officials have been estimating the data.
“If we had a better understanding of the infection around the state or in New England, I think people would take it a lot more seriously,” she said.
New Hampshire isn’t alone. Vermont receives no state funding, but officials said they still investigate every report of Lyme disease, as does Maine. Massachusetts provides estimates, like New Hampshire.
For 18 years, David Hunter has facilitated Lyme support groups. He calls it a labor of love after his daughter’s high school career was waylaid by the disease. He said he’s also critical of the practice of estimating cases.
“If you take statistics down a peg, it just means awareness is down a peg,” he said.
But state officials argued that instead of handwringing over counting every case, resources might be better shifted to prevention and education.
As of February, the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control has hired two people to fill the vacancies for Lyme surveillance. Daly said she’s hopeful that in 2018, New Hampshire will once again have complete data instead of estimates.
This right here, ladies and gentlemen, is part and parcel of the problem regarding Lyme/MSIDS.