Lyme Disease Is More Common Than You Think

This past August, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) announced that the number of Lyme disease cases may be 10 times what was previously thought. (1)

There is no reliable method to diagnose Lyme disease.

More than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC each year.

The CDC states, “The new estimate suggests that the total number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is roughly 10 times higher than the yearly reported number.” This means that instead of 30,000 cases a year, we are seeing at least 300,000 cases of Lyme disease diagnosed each year.

Paul Mead, medical doctor and chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC’s Lyme disease program, said in a press release that, “This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention.”

What Is Lyme Disease?

30%-50% of ticks spread harmful bacteria that can cause a serious infection. Lyme disease is easy to misdiagnose with symptoms like joint pain, muscular pain, and neurological problems.

Lyme disease is caused by an infection that is transmitted through ticks.

Certain species of ticks—like deer ticks and western black-legged ticks—are more likely to carry Lyme disease than others. Because they are so small and easy to miss, nymphs—or baby ticks—are responsible for most cases of Lyme disease. (2)

Lyme disease shows up during the spring and summer months when baby ticks feed. And even though Lyme disease is a year-round problem, ticks are most active in the spring and early summer, otherwise known as “tick season.” This is when symptoms of Lyme disease peak.

While a tick bite may not sound horrifying, an infection caused by a bacteria living in 30%-50% of ticks is horrifying. (3) This is because chronic Lyme disease can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms, such as:

  • Joint pain
  • Muscular pain
  • Neurological problems
  • Heart disorders

This is one reason why Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed for other more common diseases like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, or early Alzheimer’s disease.

The reality is that there is no “gold-standard” test for Lyme disease. The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) asserts that there is no reliable method to diagnose Lyme disease.

The tests that are used to diagnose Lyme disease often come back with false negatives—what’s more, a weakened immune system means that the body is unable to mount a defense against Lyme disease. These defense molecules are the very markers that tests look for. This means that tests results with false negatives are common.

According to the ILADS, laboratory testing should be used to support—rather than replace—your physician’s judgment. Unfortunately, because these diseases are so new—some discovered as little as 5 years ago—many patients are misdiagnosed.

A misdiagnosis means that a patient with Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness is given antibiotics that will not work. Or the infection is missed completely.

The most recent tragedy involving a tick-borne illness happened early this August when Joseph Osumbe Elone, a 17-year-old high school student from Poughkeepsie, NY, died from an infection with Powassan virus. His family claims that he was mildly ill for several weeks with a cough—but no striking symptoms. On August 4th, he collapsed and died.

Powassan virus isn’t an obvious diagnosis. One study published in July shows that up to 6% of ticks carrying Lyme also carry deer tick virus—one of the two types of Powassan. (4)

Unlike Lyme disease, which can take hours to pass from a feeding tick into the bloodstream of its host, Powassan virus infects a person within 15 minutes of a bite. Powassan virus attacks the nervous system. And if you survive an infection, there is often long-term neurological damage—like difficulty speaking or walking.

Another devastating tick-borne illness is the Heartland virus. Like the Powassan virus, the Heartland virus has a history of being difficult to diagnose and treat.

We now know that the same tick that carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease can also carry other bacteria and additional viruses—many of which lead to severe disease. Other common co-infections include ehrlichiosis and a parasitic infection caused by Babesia. (5)

Dealing with Chronic Lyme Disease

If you get a diagnosis for Lyme disease during its early stages, you can use antibiotic therapy to treat it. Those who struggle with late Lyme disease—months to a few years following the onset of infection—are dealing with an infection that is deeply buried in the body’s tissue.

As with any infection, diet is paramount to balancing the immune system. Probiotics can bolster the immune system; good bacteria in the gut have an anti-inflammatory effect. Donna always recommends that the best probiotics to include in your diet are fermented vegetables and probiotic beverages.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

The CDC reveals that actual Lyme disease cases may be 10 times higher than those reported. Lyme disease occurs when an infection is transmitted through a tick; baby ticks are responsible for most cases of Lyme disease since they are so easy to miss.

A tick bite may not be the end of the world, but 30%-50% of ticks spread bacteria that can cause infection. Chronic Lyme disease is related to alarming symptoms like muscular and joint pain, neurological issues, and heart disorders.

Even worse, doctors have a difficult time diagnosing Lyme disease. It’s often confused with diseases that have similar symptoms, like fibromyalgia, arthritis, or early Alzheimer’s disease. Lyme disease testing frequently comes back with a false negative—resulting in a misdiagnosis that could overlook the infection completely.

If you don’t catch Lyme disease early on, the infection could spread deep into your body’s tissue. Eating a healthy diet is a must to build the immune system and fight off infection. Fermented vegetables and probiotic beverages can also support immunity, calm inflammation, and get your health back on track.

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  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. (Aug 19 2013). CDC provides estimate of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. CDC Newsroom. http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0819-lyme-disease.html. Retrieved 09-08-13.
  2. Marchese, N. M., & Primer, S. R. (2013). Targeting Lyme disease. Nursing2013, 43(5), 28-33.
  3. Walsh, Nancy. (Jul 25 2013). Deadly Deer Tick Virus on Rise in New York State. MedPage Today. http://www.medpagetoday.com/InfectiousDisease/GeneralInfectiousDisease/40674. Retrieved 09-08-13.
  4. II, A. P. D., Peters, R. J., Prusinski, M. A., Falco, R. C., Ostfeld, R. S., & Kramer, L. D. (2013). Isolation of deer tick virus (Powassan virus, lineage II) from Ixodes scapularis and detection of antibody in vertebrate hosts sampled in the Hudson Valley, New York State.
  5. Herwaldt, B. L., Linden, J. V., Bosserman, E., Young, C., Olkowska, D., & Wilson, M. (2011). Transfusion-associated babesiosis in the United States: a description of cases. Annals of internal medicine, 155(8), 509-519.
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