People in Europe have a tendency to think of Lyme disease as an American problem, specifically one that originates in the Northeastern states. This is a complete myth; Lyme presents a very real problem for people everywhere, and it’s only getting worse. When experts look to Europe, they notice particularly worrying trends. Lyme disease is present in almost every single country on the continent, and is heavily prevalent across Central Europe, in countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Lithuania. Reported numbers of Lyme cases in Europe have been increasing steadily over the last two decades, and don’t show signs of slowing down any time soon.
So why is it that Lyme disease poses such a threat to Europe? The answers to that question are not easy to quantify, but there are certain deductions we can make concerning Lyme in 2018, and why people should be wary of it heading into 2019 and beyond.
Lyme Is Not Taken as Seriously In Europe
First of all, the obvious fact is that Lyme is not taken as seriously in Europe as it is in America. As already stated, there’s a persistent belief that Lyme is an extremely rare disease anywhere but America. This is simply not true. Lyme exists everywhere and anywhere that ticks can populate, and this doesn’t just mean in remote, wooded areas. Lyme-carrying ticks can be found in city parks too, although the chances of infection do decline in urban areas. Still, this is no reason not to be on your guard; take a park in the middle of bustling London, for instance. This is not a place many people would associate with Lyme disease – however, it’s been proven that Lyme-carrying ticks make their home there and that a risk of infection, even in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world, does indeed exist. This fact would no doubt surprise many people who may have previously heard about Lyme, but dismissed it as a rare disease they have little risk of catching.
How is global warming relevant to Lyme disease, exactly? Well, the warmer weather influences the behaviour of ticks, and not in a positive way. Global warming is a problem all over the world, and indeed, Lyme in America poses an increased issue along with the European strain. Warmer seasons generally mean that ticks live longer and can migrate further. Tick season traditionally lasts between May and September, before the cold weather sets in, rendering ticks immobile and eventually killing them off. However, warmer climates mean that ticks can pose a threat beyond the traditional season, even managing to survive most of the year in some parts of the world. This increased lifespan also allows them to travel further than they normally would, giving them a greater chance to reproduce and populate new areas. Global warming, as well as being a crisis in and of itself, is one of the main reasons why Lyme could mutate into a full-blown epidemic over the coming years.
Shortage of Lyme-literate Doctors
When a person contracts Lyme disease, the problems continue. An alarming number of doctors aren’t well-versed in Lyme at all. Most are familiar with the basic tenets of the disease, and will prescribe antibiotics if they encounter Lyme in the acute stages. Traditionally, this presents with a distinctive bullseye rash (the prime indicator of Lyme) and flu-like symptoms, although misdiagnoses at this stage are a common occurrence if the rash is not detected. Problems begin to arise when the disease transforms into its chronic form. The flu-like symptoms retreat and are replaced with an insidious, debilitating set of symptoms including muscle and joint pain, constant fatigue and other irregular, vague manifestations. At this point, if you’re not dealing with a Lyme-literate medical professional, misdiagnosis is almost a certainty. There are experts all over Europe, such as BCA-clinic in Augsburg, who are striving to set scientific parameters and establish effective treatment paths for patients with all stages of Lyme. But until everyone is on the same page, confusion will continue to reign in the Lyme arena, to the detriment of patients’ health.
Little Public Knowledge and Information
Just a couple of months ago, MEPs called on the EU to set out a number of definitive guidelines for Lyme disease in Europe, the detection and treatment of which still occurs in hopelessly muddy waters. This is an official warning that there is not sufficient public knowledge and information about Lyme, a disease that infects between 650,000 and 850,000 Europeans every year. The resolution pointed out that there is no unifying protocol for Lyme in Europe, and that attitudes and guidelines surrounding the disease vary wildly from country to country. It is not even included on the EU’s list of infectious diseases, which is bewildering considering the numbers of people it affects each year.
If we’re going to tackle Lyme head on and prevent it from becoming a full-blown crisis, these are just a few of the looming issues we’re going to have to face.