Although people have been dealing with its debilitating effects for centuries, Lyme disease was first christened in the 1970s in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut. Subsequently, Lyme was considered very much a northeastern problem in the U.S., and very much a U.S. problem for those outside America. Unfortunately, the truth is that Lyme disease is fast becoming a worldwide epidemic, with cases on the rise all over the globe. Europe has just as many cases of the disease as America, while every state in the U.S. bar Hawaii has been infected with Lyme. As it stands in 2018, Lyme is the fastest growing infectious bacterial disease in America, and is twice as common as breast cancer. So why exactly are more and more people being diagnosed with Lyme, and what does it mean for the future of the disease?
Part of the increase can be attributed to visibility. Chronic Lyme was and is a very contentious subject among medical circles all over the world; crucially, it has been consistently ignored by America’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC), in effect delegitimising it in the eyes of many medical professionals. However, recently the disease has become almost too big to ignore, with thousands of new patients being diagnosed every month and patient support groups and Lyme advocates demanding answers. The disease also featured some publicity in the form of supermodel Bella Hadid, who admitted to battling the condition in 2016. Her mother, Yolanda Hadid, chronicled her own struggles with Lyme during the popular reality television show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. This kind of widespread visibility helped entrench Lyme disease in the public consciousness, leading more people to question their own symptoms and seek help from Lyme-literate doctors.
Lyme is transmitted to humans by specific types of ticks, and is actually quite easy to treat with antibiotics in its early, or acute, stage. Problems arise when this early window of opportunity is missed and the bacteria has the chance to fully infect the host. The results of this long-term infection might not materialise for months or even years after the initial bite, but when they inevitably do, the condition is known as chronic Lyme, and produces a broad spectrum of debilitating symptoms. These symptoms are known to mimic those of other chronic diseases such as MS and fibromyalgia, making diagnosis very hard for doctors who don’t know what they’re looking for. Compounding this is the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all test that will definitively diagnose Lyme. The process is more trial and error, with many blind alleys and dead ends for patients and doctors alike.
Yet despite all these problems, cases of Lyme are still on the increase, and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Aside from some much-needed publicity, the main cause of this appears to be an explosion of the tick population – not just on the East Coast of America, but all over the world. Scientists studying the disease in the U.S. have discovered that the deer tick, the main Lyme-spreading culprit, can now be found in copious numbers in every state in the U.S. More worryingly, the lone star tick population, once exclusively Connecticut-based, has increased by 60% and can now be found in the southern part of the state, which borders New York City. The lone star tick doesn’t transmit Lyme disease itself, but its expanding growth can be seen as a microcosm of what is happening within the tick population at large.
Climate change is also having an effect on Lyme, and more specifically on the ticks that cause it. As the winters become less harsh and the summers grow longer, the deer tick has the chance to live and reproduce long past the traditional season. In fact, it’s now possible to contract Lyme disease in the spring and autumn in some American states, meaning that people in rural areas now have to be vigilant against bites for two-thirds of the year. Elsewhere in the world, the temperatures are also increasing; 2018 was one of the hottest summers in recent memory for many countries, making ticks a longer-lasting threat than other years.
As Lyme disease becomes a global problem and the number of patients increases all over the world, organisations like the BCA-clinic in Germany become all the more important. They know the dangers of tick-borne diseases like Lyme, and excel in providing avenues of holistic therapy and all-natural treatment aids. If the upward trends continue, Lyme-literate medical professionals will be necessary in the fight against the disease, as will education for both patients and other doctors on the dangers it poses. If there is one positive thing about the increase of patients across the world, it is that Lyme disease will have to be addressed at some point, and questions will have to be answered by the upper medical echelons. Let’s just hope that it’s sooner rather than later.