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CDC: Lyme Disease Affects 10 Times More People Than We Thought

Image: CDC: Lyme Disease Affects 10 Times More People Than We Thought A Lyme disease-carrying deer tick.

By Michael Mullins   |   Tuesday, 20 Aug 2013 12:07 PM

The CDC said Monday that Lyme disease is 10 times more prevalent than previously thought. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a new study that found Lyme disease strikes about 300,000 people each year.

The conclusion, which was released by the CDC on Sunday during the 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases in Boston, was based on findings from three ongoing studies.

Each year there are more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the CDC, according to an agency press release, making it the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States.

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The 30,000 cases, however, grossly underestimates the actual amount of Lyme disease cases, according to the CDC, many of which are not reported to the federal agency by physicians, CBS News reported.

"We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater," Dr. Paul Mead, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC's Lyme disease program, said in the press release. "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."

In the first of the three studies, the CDC analyzed the medical claims of approximately 22 million insured people annually for six years. The second project was based on self-reported Lyme disease cases from a survey of the general public, while the third was based on a survey of clinical laboratories.

The vast majority of Lyme disease cases, 96 percent, are reported in 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.

Common symptoms associated with Lyme disease are fever, headache, and fatigue, which are often accompanied by a skin rash.

The ticks responsible for Lyme disease are often transported into areas frequented by humans by deer and rodents, which carry the parasitical insects in their hair.

Lyme disease is curable and is generally treated with antibiotics.

If left untreated, however, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system and can lead to speech problems, paralysis, and heart problems.

In addition to releasing its new findings, the CDC said it's also developing new ways in which people can prevent contracting Lyme disease and individuals can kill tick populations on their property.

"We know people can prevent tick bites through steps like using repellents and tick checks. Although these measures are effective, they aren’t fail-proof and people don’t always use them," said Lyle R. Petersen, M.D., M.P.H, director of CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the press release. "We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem."

Current CDC Lyme disease prevention recommendations include wearing tick repellent, checking for ticks daily, showing soon after being outdoors, and calling your doctor if you get a fever or rash.

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