Mitt Romney Targets the Lyme Disease Vote in Virginia

Is Lyme disease really 'wreaking havoc' on Northern Virginia?

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Besides repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, and slashing government spending, Mitt Romney has apparently attached himself to another pet project: Fighting Lyme disease.

According to the Weekly Standard, voters in Northern Virginia received a campaign mailer from Romney promising to "fight the spread of Lyme disease," something the campaign called a "serious problem that demands immediate attention."

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The tick-borne bacterial disease causes fever, headaches, and can eventually affect the central nervous system. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of cases of Lyme in Virginia has remained relatively flat over the past few years: In 2011, 756 people were confirmed to have the disease, in 2010, 911 had it. The incidence of lyme spiked in 2007, increasing from 357 cases to 959.

According to the mailer, Romney would help Virginia ramp up awareness efforts surrounding the disease. But Durland Fish, an epidemiology doctor at Yale University and a board member of the American Lyme Disease Foundation, says Lyme disease treatment is "perfectly adequate" at this point and usually entails a simple 10 day treatment of antibiotics.

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"We're not going to have much impact on the disease by diagnosing and treating it," he says. The only thing that'll prevent more spreading of the disease is by preventing the spread of ticks."

With fewer than 1,000 cases of Lyme disease in a state of more than 8 million people, the disease may not be "wreaking havoc" on the state like the mailer suggests. But Fish says more research needs to be done about why the tick population is apparently increasing.

"The ticks are increasing in their abundance in Virginia for reasons we don't quite understand," he says. "There's a need for more research to try to understand why their range is expanding."

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.