Tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease are not something the average person would typically associate with Romania, or indeed Europe in general. To the uninitiated, it’s generally considered an American disease, especially in the Northeastern states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. However, the disease has been ravaging Europe for many years, far preceding its discovery in 1975. No one can quite put a finger on when and where the condition originated, but as it stands in 2019, it’s all over the world, on every continent bar Antarctica. And the situation doesn’t appear to be getting any better; in fact, all recent statistics show that Lyme disease is an increasing problem, and could soon blossom into a full-blown epidemic if given the chance.
Over the last five years or so, many more cases of Lyme disease are being reported in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe. Romania is one such country that has seen Lyme cases rise over the last few years, due to a number of different factors. Eastern Europe has historically been a hotspot for Lyme disease; the collection of countries on the far side of Europe often sees high numbers of infection when compared with the rest of the continent. But why is this occurring? And why does Romania in particular seem to be suffering more than most?
The first reason is a relatively positive one. The increased visibility of Lyme around the world means that doctors are much more Lyme-literate now than they were ten or even five years ago. As more and more health professionals successfully diagnose Lyme, then patient numbers inevitably go up – so what we’re possibly seeing is an increased awareness of Lyme disease, masquerading as a high percentage mark-up of cases. Despite this higher visibility, many doctors across the world are woefully undereducated when it comes to Lyme, leading to a large number of missed diagnoses and misdiagnoses. This is slowly changing for the better, but in countries like Romania, where Lyme disease isn’t a typically known affliction, education needs to continue on both a social and professional level.
Europe in general needs a lot more awareness of the dangers of Lyme. If the disease is caught in its acute stages, it is relatively simple to treat. If left to its own devices, however, it will inevitably mutate into chronic Lyme. This makes it much harder to treat, and much, much harder to diagnose, especially for Lyme-illiterate doctors. The BCA-clinic in Augsburg, Germany, has been treating and evaluating cases of chronic Lyme disease for many years. Often, an early misdiagnosis has caused the condition to worsen over time, leading to debilitating chronic inflammation all over the body. This inflammation must be tackled simultaneously with the offending bacteria in order to provide the best chance of recovery. Many medical professionals all over Europe still focus solely on the bacteria; this is not enough to successfully treat a severe case of chronic Lyme.
Another reason Lyme disease seems to be prevalent in Romania is because of the country’s terrain. The landscape is almost evenly divided between mountains, hills and plains. This kind of natural habitat is perfect for ticks, the carriers of Lyme-causing bacteria. When people go walking out in plains and woods, they leave themselves exposed to ticks, who will attempt to attach themselves to exposed areas of skin. It is estimated that one out of two ticks in Europe are Lyme carriers, but not every bite from a Lyme-infected tick will necessarily result in the bacteria being passed into the bloodstream. Exact statistics on tick-borne diseases are extremely hard (near impossible) to quantify, and more research is needed to determine the precise risk factors. To avoid the threat of Lyme disease, it’s suggested that people cover up any exposed areas when they go walking in grassy or woody areas, and check themselves thoroughly for ticks when they return home. Remember that a tick will not always be easy to spot; they often seek out the most sheltered parts of the body before biting.
Romania has a continental climate, which means hot summers and cold winters. Summer is traditionally tick season, lasting from about May until September; once the colder weather hits, the ticks can’t survive. However, with the encroaching rise of global warming, the parameters of tick season are beginning to distort. These days, because of the prolonged heat, ticks can often survive from April to October. In addition, they are migrating and moving further north, increasing their spread and population. This is undoubtedly contributing to the higher number of cases we find in 2019, and is something that people all over Europe need to be aware of, especially those in Eastern European countries like Romania. Ultimately, the best way to fight back against Lyme disease is by educating ourselves on its dangers and habits. Only then can we properly understand this insidious threat, and stem the spread of it, both in Romania and further afield.