Lyme disease epidemic? Cases of tick-borne diseases increased by 357% in rural America

New York – Summer is tick season and that means one thing – Lyme disease cases are going to rise in the United States. Now, a disturbing new report finds that rural communities have seen a sharp rise in cases of the tick-borne disease in recent years.

Over the past 15 years, from 2007 to 2021, insurance claims for Lyme disease diagnoses have exploded. 357 percent in rural areas. Although people typically encounter disease-carrying ticks in forests and tall grassy areas, researchers from FAIR Health say urban communities are on the rise, too. The nonprofit says urban areas across the United States have seen a 65 percent increase in Lyme cases since 2007.

The study authors analyzed a database of more than 36 billion healthcare claims submitted by the private sector to discover this troubling trend.

From 2016 to 2021, Lyme disease diagnoses increased by 60 percent in rural America, while urban America experienced a 19 percent increase. These cases usually peak in June and July each year – as the country moves into the heart of summer. With more people outside in fields, parks, and other grassy areas, it is not surprising that more people in rural areas are infected with Lyme after a tick bite during these months.

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

Where do Americans encounter ticks?

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

In 2021, North Carolina was not in the top five. New Jersey continued to be ranked as the state with the largest proportion of Lyme disease diagnoses claims in the United States. Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut took the top five. FAIR Health researchers add that adding Maine to the top five is also worrisome, suggesting that disease-carrying ticks are now a problem in this case as well.

Still no 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 can develop long-term symptoms, including fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and cognitive impairment.

Lyme disease remains a growing public health concern. FAIR Health will continue to use its claims data repository to provide actionable and relevant insights to healthcare stakeholders seeking a better understanding of the continuing rise in Lyme disease cases,” says FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd in a media statement.

Most cases of Lyme are mild, and some may not even know they are sick. The tell-tale sign that you have been bitten by a tick is a bull-like rash upon seeing the infection. These conditions can usually be treated with antibiotics.

However, in more serious and untreated cases, Lyme can spread to the heart, joints, nervous system, and other major organs. These patients can develop neurological problems weeks or even months after the injury. Serious side effects include encephalitis (meningitis), temporary facial paralysis, and weakness in the extremities.

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