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