In the News – Lyme Disease Much More Common

By Chris Williams on October 14, 2013.

Lyme disease rise in victimsWe know that Lyme disease is here to stay and we know that diagnoses of Lyme are becoming more common, but we had no idea just how common. The Centers for Disease Control which keeps track of such things has known since the 1990s that the number of cases nationally was underreported by 3 to 12-fold. Physicians were reporting about 30,000 cases a year, but many cases go unreported, and even more go completely undetected and undiagnosed.

Make That 300,000 Cases a Year

The CDC set out to correct that discrepancy by compiling data from the health insurance claims of 22 million people, positive test results from laboratories, and data from public surveys. What they discovered is that Lyme is about as prevalent in the U.S. as reported cases of gonorrhea, and more common than syphilis and whooping cough, for what that’s worth. Lyme disease is about 10 times more common in the U.S. than previously reported, estimated at about 300,000 cases annually—not the 30,000 reported.

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected deer tick. Early symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and often a skin rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. Cases that are diagnosed early are treated with antibiotics, but infections that are left untreated can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system and can become chronic and severe. Unfortunately, Lyme is tricky to diagnose and the tests are not very reliable.

Massachusetts Needs to Do Better

“Everyone in New England knows someone who has Lyme disease,” said state Representative David Linsky, who spearheaded a state special commission on Lyme disease that earlier this year called for more funding. Based on physician reports, in 2012 there were 3,342 confirmed cases and 1,708 probable cases in Massachusetts. That was a 19% increase over 2011. But according to the new CDC data, a more realistic estimate of the number of cases of Lyme in Massachusetts last year would be 40,000.
Presently, Lyme and ticks appear to be a low priority for public health authorities in Massachusetts. More than $10 million is spent each year to control mosquitoes, but all tick-borne diseases receive only $60,000 annually in state funding.

The CDC survey found that Lyme disease does not appear to be increasing its spread significantly in the U.S. Currently, 96% of all cases are reported from the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

[Source: The Boston Globe. Beth Daley, Aug. 20, 2013]

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