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

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

Over the past 15 years, from 2007 to 2021, insurance claims for Lyme disease diagnoses have skyrocketed by 357 percent in rural areas. Although people typically encounter disease-carrying ticks in woods and tall grass, FAIR Health researchers say urban communities are also seeing an increase. The nonprofit organization says urban areas in the United States have seen a 65% increase in Lyme cases since 2007.

The study authors analyzed a database of more than 36 billion privately billed healthcare claims to uncover this alarming trend.

From 2016 to 2021, Lyme disease diagnoses increased by 60% in rural America, while urban America saw a 19% increase. These cases typically peak in June and July each year – as the country enters the heart of summer. With more people outdoors 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 upper Midwest, but the new study found that this 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) surprising researchers.

In 2021, however, North Carolina did not make the top five. New Jersey continued to rank as the state with the highest proportion of Lyme disease diagnostic claims in the United States. Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut round out the top five. The FAIR Health researchers 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. Although antibiotics can treat the disease, some patients may develop long-term 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 claims data repository to provide actionable and relevant information to healthcare stakeholders seeking to better understand the continued 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 telltale sign that you’ve been bitten by a tick is a target-like rash at the sight of the infection. These cases are usually treatable with antibiotics.

However, in more severe, 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 infection. Serious side effects include inflammation of the brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of the face and weakness of the limbs.

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