Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector-borne illness in the US. It is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Most infections are caused by the nymphal form of the tick. These immature ticks are the size of a small poppy seed, allowing them to easily escape discovery.
Tick infection rates vary considerably from one location to the next, even park-to-park within the same county, for reasons that are not yet explained. In addition to the Bb bacteria, ticks often carry other pathogens that cause co-infections such as Babesiosis or Ehrlichiosis in their human hosts which can complicate treatment.
Lyme disease has been on the rise and is expanding its geographic footprint. First discovered in Lyme, CT, Lyme disease has become increasingly common throughout the Northeast, north central midwest, and in the Western coastal states and has been reported in 49 of 50 states (Hawaii is the only exception). Lyme disease is not limited to the US — it has also been found in 65 countries worldwide.
Reported Cases of Lyme Disease
In its acute stages, Lyme is an uncomfortable but highly treatable disease. Undiagnosed, however, it becomes a devastatingly difficult illness that becomes increasingly hard to identify or to treat. Lyme is known as an “imitator” that mimics many other ailments. Once the infection disseminates and spreads into the nervous and muscular systems, the bacteria become harder to detect and less susceptible to antibiotic treatments. Patients with late stage or post treatment Lyme disease can suffer crippling joint and muscular pain, migraines, light or sound sensitivity, cognitive impairment, nausea, fatigue, and even heart or breathing issues.
Long ignored and mired in controversy, Lyme disease is significantly underfunded relative to other comparable and less common illnesses like West Nile or even HIV. With 329,000 new cases every year and a rapidly-expanding geographic scope, Lyme is an important public health issue.
Prevention is and must be the first line of defense against this disease. Most people outside of a few endemic regions, are highly unaware of the nature and reach of Lyme disease … and the need to protect themselves with a few steps of precaution.
Next are reliable diagnostics and novel treatments that can bring relief to those suffering with Lyme. With powerful new technologies like transcriptome profiling and next generation sequencing, and innovative therapeutic approaches such as biofilm busters and combination therapies dialing up antibiotic virulency, there is hope and the potential for real solutions.
Lyme is a frustrating and debilitating disease but it is a problem we can solve.