Lyme disease is way worse than we thought

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By Lorie A. Parch

Summer may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down about Lyme disease. New data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the disease is more prevalent and has spread across the U.S.

According to the new estimate reported at the 13th International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases, which took place last week in Boston, the number of cases has jumped 10 fold increasing from 30,000 to an estimated 300,000 per year. These early estimates, based on three ongoing studies, give healthcare providers and the public more up-to-date information about the occurrence of Lyme disease. In fact, it’s the most common tick-borne illness in the country.

Signs and symptoms of infection include:

  • Bulls-eye rash (erythema migrans) this rash occurs in approximately 70-80% of infected persons (though may be harder to see on darker skin) and begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3-30 days (average is about 7 days).
  • Rash gradually expands over a period of several days, and can reach up to 12 inches across.
  • Parts of the rash may clear as it enlarges, resulting in a “bull’s-eye” appearance.
  • Rash usually feels warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful.
  • EM lesions may appear on any area of the body.

If an infection goes untreated, it can result in more rashes/lesions; Bell’s (facial) palsy (loss of muscle tone in the face); severe headaches and neck stiffness; painful, swollen joints; and shooting pains. Over time, if no treatment is given, over half of patients will have bouts of arthritis, with severe joint pain and swelling, especially knee pain.

Even more worrisome, some people continue to have symptoms even after being treated, including muscle and joint pain, mental difficulties, sleep problems, and fatigue; this is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome and it affects 10 percent to 20 percent of people with Lyme disease, says the CDC.

If you suspect you may have been bitten by an infected tick, don’t wait to get treated:With early antibiotic intervention, the chances of a complete recovery are very good. There is no longer a vaccine against Lyme disease.

Although Lyme disease was identified in the northeast U.S. (it’s named after Lyme, Connecticut, where it was found), the American Lyme Disease Foundation (ALDF) says the illness is spreading. It’s prevalent in northern California and on the Oregon Coast.A map on the ALDF site shows that in addition to the states mentioned, the most abundant areas for infected ticks in the U.S. include parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. However many states from Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona in the west to most of the Dakotas, Kansas, and Nebraska to the east have no infected tick areas at all.

The CDC offers these effective ways to protect yourself from tick-borne diseases, including Lyme:

  • Wear repellent.
  • Check daily for ticks.
  • Shower soon after you’ve been outside.
  • Call your doctor if you get a fever or a rash.

The ALDF also has a free app for iPhone (there’s no Android version yet) to help you figure out your risk of infection in any U.S. location; how to identify a potentially infected tick; and how to remove it. If you’re not sure if a critter is potentially harmful, University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center has a handy and useful tick identification tool.

Lyme is just one type of tick-borne diseases; for information on others which are also on the rise, says the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases read more here.

Do you have Lyme disease? Do you know someone who has it?

Feature Image courtesy of Flickr

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