Sunday, May 19, 2024

Lyme Disease Cases Surge as Ticks Expand Territory Across the US

In 1975, health officials in Connecticut noticed an unusual cluster of arthritis cases among children in Lyme. Since then, Lyme disease, transmitted by infected ticks, has spread across the US. Research indicates climate change as a significant factor.

Nearly half a century since its discovery, Lyme disease remains a growing concern in the United States. Each year, around 500,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease infection, with an economic burden close to $1 billion. Not confined to the northeastern states anymore, cases have been reported across the country. Climate change, according to the Fifth National Climate Assessment, is a significant contributor to this spread.

The rise of Lyme disease is part of a broader increase in vector-borne diseases across the US, a trend that has intensified over the past two decades. Factors such as milder winters and longer summers have expanded the territory of ticks beyond the northeastern states. Ben Beard, deputy director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), highlights the increase in tick-borne diseases, mentioning that factors such as changes in human activity and reforestation have contributed to the surge.

Complicating matters, the vectors and hosts of these diseases vary across the US, making prevention and control more challenging. Additionally, changes in reporting methods, as well as the recent coronavirus pandemic, have influenced the apparent rise in Lyme disease cases.

However, there have been some positive developments. Researchers have developed an experimental vaccine drawing on the mRNA approach used for certain Covid-19 vaccines. Additionally, fresh recognition of the long-term consequences of Lyme disease, similar to “long Covid,” has emerged.

Prof Nicole Baumgarth, director of the Lyme and Tickborne Diseases Research and Education Institute at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, emphasizes the importance of seeking treatment promptly. Prevention efforts focus on educating the public about the risks of tick exposure and advocating preventive measures such as using insect repellent and thoroughly checking for ticks after outdoor activities.

While scientific understanding of Lyme disease is improving and new tools are being developed, climate change is expected to exacerbate the problem in the coming years, leading to an increase in Lyme disease and other infections.

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