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Major Lyme Disease Outbreak Forecast, With Cases Rising

Major Lyme Disease Outbreak Forecast, With Cases Rising
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By    |   Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:50 AM

Now that spring has sprung, Lyme disease is breaking out of its winter’s slump. And experts are predicting an outbreak this year that will be unprecedented in scope.

A bumper crop of acorns has caused an exploding population of mice, which are common carriers of the tiny tick that transmits the insidious disease. And that could translate into a dramatic spike in the number of cases in 2017.

“I’m sorry to say, that’s the scenario we’re expecting,” disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld, who’s been studying Lyme for more than 20 years, told NPR.

And that’s bad news for an ever-increasing number of Americans.

Although some 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported every year, experts say that’s just a fraction of people who are actually being infected with the tick-borne bacteria.

“The incidence of Lyme disease seems to be increasing, but it’s hard to tell because even the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] admits that the number of officially reported cases is low,” says Dorothy Leland, director of education and outreach for the advocacy group LymeDisease.org.

“CDC researchers believe that the real number is probably 10 times the reported cases. We think it’s a lot higher than that.”

The statistics are nebulous because the disease is hard to diagnose and often misidentified. In fact, Lyme has been dubbed “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms can be similar to the including flu, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and other ailments.

Here’s a primer and how to protect yourself.

What it is: Lyme disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria transmitted through “deer” ticks. A variety of other mammals, including rodents and dogs, also host the tiny bloodsuckers. The disease is named for the town of Lyme, Conn., where it was first discovered in 1975. The bacteria wasn’t identified until 1982, and for decades it largely remained off the radar screen of most healthcare professionals.

“It used to be very hard to even find any information about it,” says Leland, co-author of the book “When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide.” “Fortunately, the message is finally starting to get out.”

How you get it: Lyme disease is most prevalent along the East Coast and in parts of the Midwest, but Leland notes cases have been reported in every state. People catch the disease when an infected tick transmits the bacteria to them, typically after an outdoor activity, particularly in wooded areas.

The first sign is often a rash around the tick “bite,” which may or may not have a distinctive “bulls-eye” appearance along with flu-like symptoms.

“It affects different people differently,” says Leland. “Some people get sick right away while others seem okay, but six months later symptoms start piling up. If you feel like you caught a bad case of the flu in the spring or summer months, that’s a red flag.”

Treatment: Blood tests to detect the bacteria’s antibodies are unreliable. The bacteria can also burrow into different types of tissue, and morph into various forms, complicating diagnosis.

“There’s still no slam-dunk test for Lyme disease,” Leland tells Newsmax Health. “The bacteria are very complex and use a kind of cloaking device to evade the immune system.”

Typical treatment is antibiotics, but they doesn’t always solve the problem. Experts are still debating how long people should be on the drugs. They agree that the sooner you start treatment, the better.

“If it’s not treated in the early stages, it can casus all kinds of problems — heart, brain, digestive, arthritis-type pain,” says Leland. “There are over 300 possible symptoms.”

How to reduce your risk: The best way to combat with Lyme disease is to avoid getting it in the first place. That means avoiding places with lots of ticks and protecting yourself by wearing long pants and sleeves, socks and a hat when outdoors. Leland recommends also spraying the insecticide permethrin on your clothing.

“When outdoors, check yourself periodically to see if any ticks are on your clothing, and brush them away,” says Leland. “Bring tweezers along and carefully pluck the little suckers if they are embedded.”

The ticks, which range in size from poppy seeds to sesame seeds depending on their age, need to be attached to you for a day or two to spread the bacteria. So it pays to be vigilant.

“When you get home from an outing, put your clothes in a dryer for 10 minutes to kill any ticks,” says Leland. “Then shower with soap and check for little bumps that may be embedded ticks. You really can’t be too careful.”

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Health experts are predicting a major Lyme disease outbreak this year, as statistics show an ever-increasing number of Americans are being afflicted. Here's what to watch for, and how to protect yourself from this tick-borne ailment.
lyme, disease, outbreak, forecast, tick, prevention
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:50 AM
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