For anyone who has had a brush with Lyme disease or who knows anything about the controversy surrounding this ‘rare’ infection, this so-called news is a little underwhelming. Years of reports from the US Centers for Disease Control citing around 30,000 cases a year, and none in some states, have influenced both state and federal policy decisions on Lyme disease prevention strategies, testing protocols, treatment and access to therapy, insurance decisions, and even court cases about physicians treating patients with suspected Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease Seriously Underestimated
An announcement on Monday from the CDC reveals that as many as 300,000 Americans are actually diagnosed each year with Lyme disease, although less than a tenth of those cases are reported by physicians. Despite knowing this for many years, little has been done to enforce regulations that state that Lyme disease is a reportable disease. When physicians rely on CDC figures and maps of Lyme disease generated on the basis of such figures, is it any wonder that the situation has been allowed to persist where patients are flat out told by their physician that there is no Lyme disease where they live, despite nearby colleagues having diagnosed the illness?
Why Lyme Disease Misdiagnosis is So Dangerous
If you suffer from the symptoms of Lyme disease but there have been no reported cases in your area then your physician is considerably less likely to consider those symptoms indicative of infection. That means that time may be wasted in looking into diagnosing a different illness and even taking precautionary treatments for such illnesses. Patients who are actually suffering from Lyme arthritis may be treated with corticosteroids for suspected osteoarthritis, while other patients may be wrongly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, depression, or even Alzheimer’s disease. Corticosteroids and other treatments for these misdiagnoses can wreak havoc on an already compromised immune system, allowing Lyme disease infection to become even worse. Denying Lyme disease can, therefore, have serious consequences in regards to health outcomes both acute and longer-term.
New Lyme Disease Estimates – Where Are the Figures From?
So, how did the CDC come up with the new figure? The estimate of 300,000 cases of Lyme disease is based on a survey across seven national laboratories, a national patient survey and a review of insurance information. Instead of simply finding confirmation of case reports submitted by physicians to the CDC, the figures show that there are many more cases of Lyme disease in areas already known to be seriously affected; interestingly, the spread of the infection tallied fairly well with current estimates, although cases were proportionally higher across the board.
Where to Find Ticks and Lyme Disease Cases in North America
Most Lyme disease cases in the US are reported in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These remained the hotspots for Lyme disease even with the new numbers. In addition to this dramatic increase in estimated cases of Lyme disease in the US, the Public Health Agency of Canada has also noted that reports are on the rise for infections across provinces, particularly close to the US border where milder weather provides a more hospitable habitat for ticks.
What Now for Lyme Disease?
News that Lyme disease is ten times more common in the US than earlier CDC estimates is likely to be of little surprise to anyone involved in Lyme disease education. Hopefully, the new figures will encourage more patients to get tested, more physicians to consider this differential diagnosis, and more insurers to respond favorably to requests for coverage of testing costs and treatment.