How prevalent is Lyme disease in America? According to the findings of a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this tick-borne ailment is likely much more pervasive than what current estimates show.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 cases of this disease are reported to the federal agency each year, current estimates show. But in a report released earlier this month, the CDC estimated that some 476,000 Americans were diagnosed with Lyme disease annually between 2010 and 2018 — about 10 times higher than what’s currently reported.
To reach this conclusion, the CDC reviewed billing codes on health insurance claims between 2010 and 2018. To start, they counted the number of cases that were officially diagnosed with the disease and were prescribed antibiotics to treat it. Using certain statistical tools, they then estimated the number of cases among the rest of the population, including those without insurance and those over the age of 65.
The CDC conducted a similar study between 2005 and 2010, estimating some 329,000 annual diagnoses of Lyme disease over that study period.
As for where in the country the disease is most prevalent, the CDC noted that the majority of Lyme disease diagnoses — about 81% — primarily occurred “among residents of 14 high-incidence states in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest,” during the eight-year study period.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is most commonly transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, according to the CDC, which notes that typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, “and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.”
In most cases, those given antibiotics within the first few weeks of exposure recover, though in some cases, “symptoms such as fatigue (being tired) and muscle aches can last for more than 6 months” per the CDC.
If left untreated, however, the disease can result in nerve damage, inflammation around the heart and memory loss, among other health ailments.
“Our findings underscore the large clinical burden associated with Lyme disease diagnoses in the United States. Evolving electronic medical and laboratory systems should help fill demonstrable data gaps and enable more robust and reliable monitoring of changes in the magnitude and spread of the disease,” the CDC concluded in its report. “Effective interventions are needed, and improved awareness among clinicians and the public is paramount to foster early and accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”