Lyme disease in humans was first discovered and given a name in 1975 when people living in Lyme, Connecticut, began experiencing arthritic symptoms, which were the same in both children and adults. In the next few years, two persistent mothers became researchers, documenting symptoms and contacting scientists. Finally, they made a connection between their symptoms and being bitten by the black-legged tick or deer tick. At this time, it was given a name, Lyme disease.
The research did not stop there, however. By 1982, scientists narrowed the cause of the symptoms down to the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, named after Dr. Burgdorfer, who made the discovery. Doctoral students at Yale researched Borrelia burgdorferi further and found it has been here for thousands of years. A mummy that was 5,300 years old was tested and was found to have traces of the bacteria.
While research on Lyme disease continues today, it is not studied as much as it should be.
How Common Is Lyme Disease?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year in America. However, they also report this number is likely not an actual number. Instead, it’s more likely there are 300,000 annual cases of Lyme disease each year.
The reasons for inaccurate reporting include:
- Inaccurate testing methods. Currently, in the United States, there are two tests, the ELISA and the Western Blot. Both tests are highly inaccurate. Some reports claim they have less than a 40% accuracy rate. This is because the two tests can only test for Lyme antibodies, which are not always active.
If you take the Lyme disease test when antibodies are dormant, you will receive a negative result for Lyme disease. However, you could still have Lyme disease. Because general practitioners vow by these tests, they often give you a different diagnosis for your symptoms. The Lyme bacteria can stay in your bloodstream longer, where they can grow and multiply, and your symptoms can become chronic and debilitating.
- No sign of a rash. The most recognizable symptom associated with Lyme disease is the bullseye-like rash that appears after being bitten by a deer tick. Erythema migrans is the scientific name for the red rash. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a rash following a deer tick bite to alert them they may have been infected with Lyme bacteria. Or, some rashes appear on more private and hidden parts of the body, making it challenging to identify.
It’s no wonder Lyme disease is one of the fastest-growing vector-borne diseases in our country.
Why Is Lyme Disease on the Rise?
Since learning the black-legged tick has been transmitting Lyme disease for thousands of years, researchers have figured out why there is a surge in cases today. The number one reason is deforestation. Ticks live in forests. When humans cut down trees to build homes, commercial buildings, or make paper, we remove areas where ticks live. They must find new places to survive in their new neighborhoods.
The more we develop forested land, the more contact we will have with wildlife, like deer who carry deer ticks infected with Lyme disease.
Lyme is spreading across the country. The reason is that we travel more. We can quickly move from the east coast to the west in a few days. Without knowing it, we have carried ticks on airplanes, buses, and in our cars to different parts of the world. Leaving behind allows them to reproduce in a new area.
As climates change and shift, wildlife and deer ticks must also shift. They move to warmer climates, which is why many hotter states are seeing a rise in Lyme disease diagnoses.
Which States Have the Highest Rate of Lyme Disease?
Northeastern states have the highest number of reported cases of Lyme disease today. Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and Maryland have the highest incidences of Lyme disease as reported by the CDC.
However, every state now has confirmed cases of Lyme disease, except Hawaii.
How to Stay Safe from Lyme Disease
Prevention is the best way to avoid Lyme disease. There are actions you can take when you know you are going to be outdoors. If you know you are going to be in high grass, woods, or brushy areas, here are some tips:
- Cover your body with clothing. Wear long sleeves and long pants. Wear boots or sneakers with socks. Wear a hat. Clothing acts as a barrier between you and a tick.
- Use tick repellant. They are harmless to humans but deter ticks from attaching to you while you are enjoying the outdoors.
- Change your clothing as soon as you return from the outdoors and wash them to make sure ticks get washed away rather than roaming your home.
- Take a shower and do a thorough tick check from head to toe.
Finally, keep your lawn manicured, so it is not attractive to ticks.
Don’t Forget Your Pets
Pets that go outdoors are ideal for ticks that are looking for a warm-blooded body. Check your pets for ticks when they come back into the house. Use tick repellant for animals. Also, veterinarians offer Lyme disease vaccines for animals. This may be the right option for your animals. The goal is to prevent infected deer ticks from climbing off your pet and onto your body.
It can take a tick up to 36 hours to find the right spot on your body to bite. Once it bites, it continues to dig until it reaches your bloodstream, where it will feast on blood and transmit Lyme disease.
If prevention methods do not work, help is still available, and you can still be Lyme disease-free. The key is working with a Lyme literate doctor, one that specializes in Lyme disease. They have advanced modern testing methods and equipment. To learn more, reach out to a Lyme literate doctor today.