Lyme Disease 10 Times More Common Than Assumed

As debate rages about the potential long-term hazards arising from Lyme disease, new figures from the Center Of Disease Control have confirmed that the illness is ten times more common than previously thought.

Lyme disease was thought to only affect between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans each year, though medical practitioners have long warned that few cases are ever reported. Now, new CDC figures have raised that figure to about 300,000. The agency points out that the disease is still only contracted in less than 15 states, all of which are in the northeast and upper Midwest.

Lyme disease is spread by infected deer ticks, some of which can be as tiny as a poppy seed. Most people are struck down by fever and fatigue, and confirmed as having the illness when they see a telltale "bulls-eye" mark around the tick bite, and/or test positive. They usually recover after a treatment of antibiotics, though if left untreated, the infection can lead to long-term problems, such as arthritis.

The National Institute of Health only dedicates a small amount of its budget to research into Lyme disease. The new numbers, said the CDC agent who oversaw the new figures, are "giving us a fuller picture, and it’s not a pleasing one." Lyme disease was first discovered in Connecticut in 1975.

More worrying is the recent buzz regarding a long-term form of Lyme disease, about which little is known but much is feared. Sufferers report chronic pain and fatigue years after the initial infection, as well as a host of other alarming symptoms — musculoskeletal aches, mental slowness, and unending tiredness. Some are treated successfully, and others can find no cure for the debilitating condition. For every ten people diagnosed with initial Lyme disease, at least one or two will be later diagnosed with "post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome."

The term is vague because understanding of the latter disease is very limited. Some doctors flat-out don't believe in the "post-treatment" syndrome, and others diagnose their patients with autoimmune conditions or major depression. Said one specialist: “It is a real disorder, although nobody really knows what’s happening."

The medical community are still debating whether the "condition" is another autoimmune disease entirely, or if it originates in Lyme disease — and how common it really is.

It's likely that sufferers are hoping that the CDC's latest figures about the disease will encourage the NIH to devote more of its budget to finding a diagnosis, treatment, and hopefully, a cure.