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08/19/2013

Lyme disease – now infecting 300,000 Americans every year?

Tick

Say hello to the Ixodes scapularis, a.k.a. the blacklegged tick. Here in Canada, it gets a lot less attention than the pesky West Nile-carrying mosquito but I have a strong feeling we'll be hearing more about this little guy in the years and decades to come.

Ticks are vectors for Lyme disease which, as Michael Specter with the New Yorker wrote a few weeks ago, is a growing menace in the United States, where it is now the most commonly-reported tick-borne illness. But as Specter points out, no one seems to agree on anything when it comes to Lyme not on how to treat it, diagnose it or even the number of people getting infected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now trying to find some answers. Today, the CDC announced early results from three ongoing studies attempting to estimate the true burden of Lyme disease and it's about 10 times higher than previously thought.

Every year, some 30,000 cases are reported in the United States but many suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. Now, the CDC thinks the real figure could be closer to 300,000 more than the entire population of Vaughan.

The CDC is hoping to hone in on a more accurate estimate with a trio of studies: one analyzing medical claims for approximately 22 million insured Americans, another pulling data from clinical laboratories and an analysis of self-reported cases. Final numbers will be announced once they're available.

But we already know Lyme disease is spreading fast. This interactive map on the CDC's website paints a compelling picture of how rapidly it has moved across the American northeast a spread that now seems to be closing in on Canada too.

Like in the United States, the true prevalence of Lyme in Canada is hotly disputed. But in a recent interview with the Canadian Press, a senior researcher with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said reported cases nearly doubled between 2009 and 2011, from 144 to 258.

According to the PHAC, Lyme disease is now known to be endemic in seven areas in Ontario, as well as parts of B.C., Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The red triangles on this map pinpoint where the disease has already gained a foothold in Canada and at the rate things are going, don't be surprised to see a lot more red triangles popping up in the near future.

Fig1_lyme-eng
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

Comments

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Google Plum island and Animal Disease Centre.

The key with Lyme Disease is to get antibiotics into you as soon as the rash is noticed -- your chances of a positive outcome are much, much higher. If you wait until the secondary symptoms, you are likely in for a rough ride and it might turn into a chronic infection. Also -- it is important to remove the tick quickly and get it identified. If you can remove the tick in less than 24 hours, your chances of becoming infected are greatly reduced as well -- so if you in tick country, make sure to have a good look for a ticks that might have attached themselves to you and make sure to remove them properly (search google for that).

Thank-you for running this issue. There have been so many people needlessly crippled by spirochetes and their co-infections. By in large the civilian medical community is unwilling to treat much recognize the issue. It's really ironic. Medical medicine recognizes the problem. Private doctors and researchers recognize the problem. Veterinarians recognize the problem. Microbiologists recognize the problem. What's wrong with public medicine in North America?

I had LYME disease, my wife, son and his girlfriend all got it. We spent over 45k to get cured. The ONLY way to get diagnosed is to send your blood to iGenics Lab in CA.
We finally all got cured by a VERY simple device in 14 days or less. A ultra violet light machine...and I am the most skeptical guy on the planet..BUT IT WORKED. None of us have any symptoms

Home in, not hone in.

The 258 cases reported here in Canada is inconceivable compared to the 30,000 – 300,000 figure in the U.S.; it's not like our customs officers are stopping ticks at the border! Good on the CDC for attempting to estimate the true numbers of Lyme sufferers. If only Canadians were that enlightened! Thanks to woefully inadequate blood testing here and our doctors' unwillingness to clinically diagnose Lyme, I am one of the many, many Canadians that are unreported and therefore are not receiving much needed support for this insidious disease. It's a travesty that our health care ministers have buried their heads in the sand and are letting untold thousands of people suffer with Lyme, when there is much they can do to improve testing, diagnosis and doctor education in Canada. It’s about time our Ministers do something which would lead to a more accurate accounting of the prevalence here and, more importantly, much needed treatment options.

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