Lyme disease epidemic? Tick-borne disease cases skyrocket by 357% in rural America

NEW YORK – Summer is tick season, and that means one thing: Lyme disease cases are set to rise in the United States. Now, a disturbing new report shows that rural communities have seen cases of tick-borne diseases rise in recent years.

Over the past 15 years, from 2007 to 2021, insurance claims for the diagnosis of Lyme disease have skyrocketed by 357 percent in rural areas. Although people usually encounter disease-causing ticks in forests and tall grasslands, FAIR Health researchers say urban communities are also seeing an increase. The nonprofit says urban areas in the US have seen a 65 percent increase in Lyme cases since 2007.

The study authors analyzed a database of more than 36 billion private health claims to uncover this alarming trend.

From 2016 to 2021, Lyme disease diagnoses rose 60 percent in rural America, while urban America increased 19 percent. These cases reach their peak in June and July each year, as the country enters the middle of summer. With more people out in fields, parks and other grassy areas, it’s no surprise that more people in rural areas develop Lyme after a tick bite during these months.

Interestingly, the team found that there are more Lyme cases in urban areas between November and April.

Where do Americans encounter ticks?

Historically, ticks have been a major problem in the Northeast and Midwest, but the new study found that the map may be growing in recent years. In 2017, the highest rates of Lyme diagnoses were found in New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont — with North Carolina (third highest) coming as a surprise to researchers.

In 2021, however, North Carolina failed to make the top five. New Jersey remained the state with the majority of Lyme disease diagnosis claims in the United States. Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut rounded out the top five. Researchers at FAIR Health add that Maine’s addition to the top five is also concerning, suggesting that disease-carrying ticks are now also a problem in that state.

Lyme still a problem after treatment

The study also notes that Lyme disease can still affect patients long after a doctor has treated the bacterial infection. While antibiotics can treat the disease, some patients may develop long-lasting symptoms, including fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and cognitive dysfunction.

“Lyme disease remains a growing public health problem. FAIR Health will continue to use its repository of claims data to provide actionable and relevant insights to healthcare stakeholders seeking a better understanding of the ongoing rise in Lyme disease cases,” said FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd in a press release. .

Most cases of Lyme are mild and some may not even know they are sick. The tell-tale sign of being bitten by a tick is a dandruff-like rash at the sight of an infection. These cases are usually treatable with antibiotics.

However, in more severe and untreated cases, Lyme can spread to the heart, joints, nervous system, and other major organs. These patients may develop neurological problems weeks or even months after infection. Serious side effects include inflammation of the brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of the face and weakness in the extremities.

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