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An estimated 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year

On August 19, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that approximately 300,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year in America. This preliminary estimate was revealed at the 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases during the presentation “Estimating the Public Health Burden of Lyme Disease in the United States.”

Blacklegged ticks are infected with  bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi). The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease. Humans can get the disease if bitten by an infected tick.
Blacklegged ticks are infected with bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi). The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease. Humans can get the disease if bitten by an infected tick.
Anita P. Kuan, Source: CDC
Two types of blacklegged ticks, which look quite similar, are largely responsible for transmitting Lyme disease in the United States.

Lyme disease was first recognized in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 and is an important health concern in Connecticut. In 2012, there were 2658 reported cases of Lyme disease in Connecticut. The majority (96%) of Lyme disease cases in the U.S. are concentrated in just 13 states. Connecticut is one of these 13 states.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

This new estimate of the number of cases of Lyme disease each year is surprising since only about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC each year. The new estimate of 300,000 indicates that the total number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is roughly 10 times higher than the yearly reported number. This coincides with previous studies which indicate the true number of cases is between 3- and 12-fold higher than the number of reported cases.

The CDC’s early estimate is based on findings from 3 ongoing research studies. Each study uses a different method to determine the number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease each year – (1) analysis of medical claims information for approximately 22 million insured people annually for six years; (2) survey of clinical laboratories; or (3) analysis of self-reported Lyme disease cases.

We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater,” said Paul Mead, M.D., M.P.H. of the CDC’s Lyme disease program. “This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention.

Efforts are underway at CDC and by other researchers to identify novel methods to kill ticks and prevent illness in people.

We know people can prevent tick bites through steps like using repellents and tick checks. Although these measures are effective, they aren't fail-proof and people don’t always use them,” said Lyle R. Petersen, M.D., M.P.H. of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. “We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem.

In this community approach, to effectively fight Lyme disease, communities would need to address certain issues, including rodents that carry the Lyme disease bacteria, deer that play a key role in the ticks’ life-cycle, suburban planning, and the interaction between deer, rodents, ticks, and humans. This community approach would also include homeowners killing ticks in their own yards.

To help prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases:

  • Wear repellent (DEET is the primary active ingredient in most tick repellents and is considered the most effective)
  • Check for ticks daily (examine yourself, your children, and pets for ticks when returning indoors)
  • Remove ticks as soon as possible (ticks need to feed for 24 hours before transmission occurs)
  • Shower soon after being outdoors (use a wash cloth/buff to remove walking ticks on your body, ticks have a tendency to walk on the body before biting and feeding)
  • Avoid tall grass and over-grown, brushy areas
  • Stay in the middle of the trails when hiking in the woods
  • Wear light-colored clothing so the ticks can be easily seen
  • Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed shoes when in tick infested areas
  • Call your doctor if you get a fever or rash

For more information on Lyme disease, visit the following web pages:

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