If you are living in Connecticut, upstate New York, or Long Island you may very well be aware of Lyme disease, from friends and family who have had Lyme or even news reports. You may approach the outdoors with some caution, wearing long pants tucked into socks in an effort to ward off ticks.
But what if you live in California, the Midwest or Canada? Research tells us that you could also be at risk for Lyme. While Lyme might be less well known in these areas, it is an emerging, documented threat.
So it turns out that Lyme is not a regional disease isolated in the Northeast, but a national and even international health threat, with cases in Switzerland, the U.K., and even China.
Lyme disease cases have been expanding in the U.S. The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease grew from 19,804 in 2004 to 29,959 in 2009, according to the CDC.
Then, in 2013, the CDC revised its estimate way upward, 10 times the number of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease every year. The new total is now around 300,000, the CDC says.
According to the CDC report:
'We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater,' said Paul Mead, M.D., M.P.H, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC's Lyme disease program. 'This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States... '
So let's take a look at how Lyme is showing up in perhaps unlikely places, carried by surprising hosts.
Of course deer carry deer ticks. But they are also carried on the white-footed mouse, chipmunks, shrews, prairie dogs, birds, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and skunks. So even if there are no deer around, you could still be at risk for coming into contact with Lyme-disease carrying deer ticks.
The University of Illinois reports that the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease are increasing in Illinois and Indiana, after having been found in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The study reveals that while deer ticks thrive in forested areas, living on deer and mice, they also found deer ticks on prairie voles in the prairie, signaling that deer ticks are moving into new habitats and expanding their range.
In California, researchers from Stanford University said they were surprised to discover ticks infected with Lyme disease bacterium in just about every park studied in the San Franscisco Bay Area. The research was funded by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. In a statement, Kathleen O'Rourke, a co-founder of this organization said that when seeking medical care for her family, "We were told there is no Lyme in California," by the doctor.
Earlier studies by the University of California found squirrels in California to be infected by the Lyme bacterium. The researchers note "A survey of 222 western gray squirrels in California showed an overall prevalence of B. burgdorferi infection of 30 percent." They also looked at human infection rates and found a strong correlation between squirrel infection rates and reported human cases of Lyme disease.
University of Montreal researchers are watching ticks that carry Lyme disease spread in Canada. The researchers explain that climate change and warmer temperatures are a key factor in the spread north of deer ticks since 1990. They expect this trend to continue. In 1990, Lyme-transmitting ticks were almost unknown in Canada, but in 2010 were found in 18 percent of the area where the population resided. They note that migratory birds can carry the ticks long distances from the U.S. into Canada.
"Our findings will help community groups and government agencies to alert the Canadians who may be at risk of picking up Lyme disease -- those of us who like to visit the outdoors in spring and summer, when nymphal ticks are active but difficult to spot because of their size," said lead author Patrick Leighton of the University of Montreal. Read Lyme Disease Ticks Spreading in Canada
Now I'd like to hear from you: Do you hear about Lyme disease in your area? Have you been having unexplained symptoms? Have your been tested for Lyme or other tick-borne diseases Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.
Jonathan Galland is a leader in integrated health education through his work with medical conferences, videos, books, and online media. He is CEO of pilladvised.com, a website dedicated to transforming health by presenting the wisdom of the world's leading integrated doctors. Jonathan is a passionate health writer who authored the recipes for The Fat Resistance Diet, which has been featured in Fitness, Self, Body and Soul, The Wall Street Journal and on The Dr. Oz Show. Get Healing Inspiration from Pill Advised in the free newsletter and healthy updates on Facebook.
"Tick-borne Pathogens in Northwestern California, USA [letter]," Daniel J. Salkeld, Stephanie Cinkovich, Nathan C. Nieto, Emerging Infectious Disease online March 2014
Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2008 Oct;79(4):535-40."Identifying the reservoir hosts of the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi in California: the role of the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus). Salkeld DJ1, Leonhard S, Girard YA, Hahn N, Mun J, Padgett KA, Lane RS.
Proc Biol Sci. Jan 22, 2008; 275(1631): 227-235. Published online Nov 21, 2007. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1208 PMCID: PMC2596186 Conspicuous impacts of inconspicuous hosts on the Lyme disease epidemic Dustin Brisson,1,* Daniel E Dykhuizen,2 and Richard S Ostfeld3
This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) or the creation of a physician -- patient relationship. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your doctor promptly.