Lyme has been around for many years. It was christened in 1975, after a group of physicians investigated a number of similar complaints in the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme in Connecticut, but it had been plaguing people all over the world for centuries before that. Forty-three years on from the initial diagnosis, we still haven’t got a good handle on what exactly constitutes Lyme disease. Certain medical circles believe the whole thing is a myth, merely a delusion dreamed up by people unwilling to age gracefully. As bizarre and insulting as that sounds to many patients who suffer the debilitating effects of Lyme on a day-to-day basis, it’s indicative of the small progress we’ve made so far. Meanwhile, what sort of progress is Lyme making across the world?
The general attitude towards Lyme is that it occurs only in far-off places. Europeans think of it as an American disease, while Americans think of it as a solely North Eastern disease, associated only with states like Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The unfortunate reality is that Lyme is everywhere, both in Europe and the U.S., and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The deer ticks that carry the offending bacteria have reached every state in America bar Hawaii, and while it is certainly close to an epidemic in the North Eastern states, there have been recorded cases everywhere across the country. When it comes to Europe, the situation is equally as bleak. Lyme can be found in almost every country on the continent. Although the species of tick differs slightly from America, the method of transmission and the debilitating dangers are exactly the same.
When it comes to the question of whether Lyme disease is becoming more prevalent in both Europe and America, the answer is a resounding yes, although it’s best to look at the two continents separately. Let’s start with Europe. The number of Lyme cases reported in Europe has increased steadily over the last two decades, with almost 500,000 new cases being brought to doctors’ attention. The highest instances of Lyme disease can be found in central Europe, in countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia; in general, these countries have large swathes of rural land, which allow the offending ticks the perfect habitat to spread the Lyme bacteria to humans. It is the most common tick-borne disease is Europe, and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, increasing surely and steadily since the 1990s and stretching all the way from the eastern fringes (Russia) to the most westerly point (Ireland). Doctors in Europe are notoriously less Lyme-literate than their colleagues in America, but there are medical professionals well-versed in the disease. BCA-clinic is one of those places. They’ve spent many years researching and studying the effects of Lyme, and aiding patients from all over the world in their treatment.
Looking at America, the situation is equal in severity. Lyme is the most common tick-borne disease in the country, growing at an alarming rate each year. Since 2010, the rate of infection has increased 11.2%. The numbers flattened out between 2012–2014, before veering upwards again from 2014 to the present. Even in states like California and Florida, where risk of Lyme infection was previously thought to be negligible, cases are being reported on a frequent basis. Last year in the Golden State, there were 501 new cases reported, representing an increase of 194.5% from 2015. Meanwhile in Florida, 483 positive test results were reported, signifying a 77% increase.
While figures like these are undoubtedly disturbing, they are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg. Many thousands of cases of Lyme go unreported or misdiagnosed every year, meaning the total number of people infected with the disease is actually far, far higher than any records could show. In its acute form, Lyme is relatively easy to treat with a round of antibiotics – but you have to catch it early. If it’s given the chance to mutate into its chronic stage, it is significantly harder to both diagnose and treat. The symptoms change to mimic the symptoms of other degenerative disorders, making misdiagnosis commonplace. So as well as new patients becoming infected every year, there are many more out there who have Lyme and don’t even know it. On top of all this, there is no 100% fool-proof test for Lyme, as each patient will react somewhat differently to the bacteria on a long-term basis.
Despite all these roadblocks, the biggest hurdle in Lyme’s way, and the one that leads to a shocking underestimation of cases in the U.S., is that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) has yet to recognise chronic Lyme, the most debilitating form of the disease, as a legitimate disorder. Once this comes to pass, we will be able to more accurately measure the disease’s prevalence in the U.S., Europe and beyond.