August 20, 2013 – NEW YORK – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 300,000 Americans are getting Lyme disease every year, and the toll is growing. “It confirms what we’ve thought for a long time: This is a large problem,” Dr. Paul Mead tells Shots. “The bottom line is that by defining how big the problem is we make it easier for everyone to figure out what kind of resources we have to use to address it.” Mead, who directs Lyme disease surveillance for the CDC, presented the new “preliminary” estimate at an international conference in Boston on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The CDC says only a 10th of Lyme disease cases — fewer than 30,000 — are reported. And to make it more complicated, an unknown number of people are being diagnosed with Lyme disease who don’t really have it. The new estimate comes from three different ways of looking at the problem. CDC scientists analyzed insurance claims for 22 million people over six years. They surveyed labs that test for Lyme disease, and they did surveys asking people if they’d had the disease. The result adds up to a vexing public health problem, all caused by a tick that’s about the size of the period on the end of this sentence. A generation ago there was no such thing called Lyme disease, though it may have been lurking undetected in nature. Scientists first reported it in 1977 and named it after the location of the first cases, in Lyme, Conn. This blacklegged tick, found in a Michigan forest, probably wouldn’t mind you having her over for dinner.
Now it’s the most prevalent tick-borne infection — concentrated in 13 states in the Northeast and upper Midwest, but expanding both northward (to upper New York state and Maine) and southward (to Virginia). In many areas where Lyme disease is entrenched, Mead says, up to 30 percent of black-legged or deer ticks carry the Lyme disease spirochete. That translates to a substantial risk of infection for humans who venture outdoors, especially in grassy and woodsy areas. Getting Lyme disease is no picnic. Symptoms resemble the flu — fatigue, headache, mildly stiff neck, joint and muscle aches, and fever. But if not treated with an antibiotic within about 72 hours, the infection can disseminate throughout the body, causing neurologic, cardiac and joint disease for weeks or months. In the current New Yorker, Michael Specter explores the conflict among some people who suffer from Lyme disease, and the doctors who study it. An unknown proportion of Lyme disease patients become chronically ill with fatigue that can be debilitating. Mead says the CDC recognizes chronic Lyme disease as a real problem. “The question is whether it’s due to persistent infection or some immunologic effect, and what’s the best way of treating it,” he says. People often don’t know when they have gotten Lyme disease. One tell-tale sign is a bulls-eye rash around the tick bite. But Mead says 20 or 30 percent of people don’t get the rash — or don’t recognize it because it’s on their scalp or somewhere they can’t see. –NPR
NY teenager dies from tick bite: A New York teenager, who collapsed in his yard and later died may have been bitten by a tick carrying a deadly disease, his family says. Seventeen-year-old Joseph Elone of Poughkeepsie, an honor roll student who wanted to become an environmental engineer, died shortly after midnight Aug. 5, according to his family. “Joe was full of life, gifted in so many things,” said grieving father Benedict Elone. Elone had a minor cough, fatigue and a headache for about two weeks before his death, but his family said it seemed like a summer cold. And then, Elone watched his son collapse in front of their home on the evening of Aug. 4. He wasn’t breathing, and no one knew how sick he was. His father rushed to him in the yard. “I hugged my son, I called him. He couldn’t even answer,” Benedict Elone said. Joseph was taken to Vassar Brothers Medical Center, where he later died. Dutchess County officials, citing initial testing, believe Elone may have been bitten by a tick infected with Powassan encephalitis. The virus is untreatable and can be transmitted by a tick bite in a matter of minutes. A recent study by the journal Parasites & Vectors shows 6 percent of ticks in the Hudson Valley carry a variant of the virus, according to The Poughkeepsie Journal. Researchers say the number is low compared to Lyme disease carriers, but it’s also higher than expected. “There are no diagnostic tests for the disease, and no treatments that are effective,” said Dr. David Roth, co-chair of the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance. –4 New York