Three years ago, my then 7-year-old daughter was going through what I thought initially was a growth spurt — achy joints and extra sleepiness. Then came the headaches and overall exhaustion, and I thought maybe she had the flu. When she spiked a fever and could barely lift her head from the sofa, I dragged her to the doctor, expecting to get confirmation on her flu diagnosis and some medication to ease her symptoms.
When I learned that she had Lyme disease, I was absolutely floored. I had never ever even seen a tick bite let alone the tell-tale bulls-eye rash often associated with the disease. Still, this was her diagnosis. And it turns out, she is far from alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 300,000 Americans get Lyme disease every year, and the numbers are on the rise. The data was released at a recent international conference on Lyme disease and other tick-borne related diseases. What's worse, the CDC estimates that only about a tenth of cases are ever reported.
When I was a kid, health experts were just beginning to identify Lyme disease in a few isolated cases. But today it is the most prevalent tick-borne infection in the U.S. At the moment, the disease is contracted primarily in 13 states in the Northeast and upper Midwest, but for the past decade it has been on the move, creeping northward (to upper New York state and Maine) and southward (to Virginia). In areas where the disease is prevalent, experts estimate that as many as 30 percent of ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria that causes the infection. That makes for a pretty high likelihood of contraction if you are someone who works or recreates in the woods on a regular basis.
The CDC hopes that by sharing the data on the rise in Lyme disease cases, it will encourage health industry experts to pool more resources to address the disease, and remind patients that it's up to them to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Covering up with long sleeves and pants while outdoors and checking for tick bites immediately afterwards are the two best ways to prevent infection. Showering within two hours of being outdoors can also reduce your risk.
For more info on Lyme disease, check out these MNN posts: