When it comes to Lyme disease, the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ definitely rings true. Lyme disease prevention is key to reducing the suffering of patients across the US and around the world especially as many consider Lyme disease tests largely unhelpful and treatment guidelines questionable. Implementing preventative strategies for Lyme disease remains preferable to dealing with the aftermath of the infection. One major hurdle for those working on preventing Lyme disease is the poor recognition of the condition in many states and provinces.
Lyme Disease Catch-22
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories of patients being told that they are at no risk of Lyme disease in a particular state and that the disease simply is not present in areas such as Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Montana. This quickly becomes a catch-22 situation whereby a physician believes Lyme disease is an unlikely diagnosis, does not order tests for the infection, concentrates on other possible diagnoses and, therefore, fails to report any confirmed cases of Lyme disease. Official reports of Lyme disease then stay low or non-existent, and the doctors continue to consider Lyme disease a non-issue for their patients. The only way out of this vicious cycle it seems is to have good quality research done on the presence of infected ticks in an area and to roll out an educational programme and tick-awareness programme to both physicians and residents. Quite sensibly, nobody will spend time actively trying to prevent a problem that there is little reason to consider a pertinent issue.
Tick Infection Rates in the US
Tick infection rates vary considerably, even across the US, with only around 5% of ticks in Maryland thought infected with Borrelia burgdorferi in contrast to northeastern areas where Lyme is endemic and 50% or more of ticks may be infected. The degree of tick infection on the west coast of the US is estimated to be around 2-4%, but this figure is far from safe as little testing has been carried out due to many years of Lyme disease denial by local and national health agencies. In states where the infection is considered endemic however there are considerable efforts to increase Lyme disease prevention strategies undertaken by local government and householders themselves.
Lyme Disease Vaccines for Humans and Dogs
There have been repeated calls for another Lyme disease vaccine to be developed following the voluntary removal of LYMErix from the market in 2002. The absence of a vaccine for a preventable disease considered to be more endemic than HIV/AIDS by some Lyme disease advocates has been called a travesty, unnecessarily endangering the health of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people each year.
Lyme disease prevention in dogs often involves vaccination however, although normally just in Lyme endemic areas or whenever a dog is travelling to such an area. Lyme disease prevention in dogs also involves avoidance of areas with a large tick population along with regular tick checks and the use of insect repellents and tick collars. Although antibiotic treatment usually successfully resolves the infection in early stages it can be difficult in dogs (and humans) to detect early symptoms in a number of cases. Preventing chronic or late stage Lyme disease can be further complicated by the inability of dogs to let their owners know their symptoms easily. Recognizing the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs requires a good understanding of the dog’s general demeanor, appetite, and energy levels so as to notice any problems early on. Veterinarians are unlikely to decide to vaccinate a dog against Lyme disease unless there is a considerable risk of infection, and there is now a new Lyme disease test for dogs already vaccinated that can differentiate between infection and antibodies produced due to the vaccine. This will likely help prevent over-vaccination of dogs and reduce the use of antibiotics for a suspected but asymptomatic case of Lyme disease. As always, the best course if action is employing Lyme disease prevention strategies that reduce exposure to ticks for both dogs and humans.
Continue Reading –> Reducing Tick Exposure