Tick-borne Lyme disease has spread across West Virginia over the past six years with cases reported in 52 of the state's 55 counties, according to state health officials.
Most cases are reported in the northern and eastern panhandles probably because of their proximity to the high-incidence states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the Department of Health and Human Resources said.
In an advisory Monday to health care providers, Health Commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta wrote that the increase could be from increased reporting or from more ticks infected with the bacteria. Most cases appear between May and September, but ticks have become more active in winter months, he said.
According to the department, 580 cases have been reported so far this year, up from 97 statewide in 2012.
"Based on the change, West Virginia is considered a high incidence Lyme disease state," Gupta wrote.
Patients treated early with antibiotics usually recover quickly. He recommended a two-step blood test to confirm evidence of antibodies against the Lyme disease bacteria.
Symptoms often include a circular rash around a tick bite and fever, headaches and fatigue, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
The CDC says there were more than 36,000 probable cases in the U.S. last year, with 26,203 confirmed.