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Lyme Disease Is Having A Huge Surge In Rural Parts Of The US

This disease is in the lyme-light once again.

 DR. BECCY CORKILL

Dr. Beccy Corkill

Senior Custom Content Producer

clockAug 3 2022, 16:44 UTC
Bull's eye on pale skin Erythema migrans tick lyme disease
Bull’s eye! The most distinctive sign of infection. Image credit: AnastasiaKopa/ shutterstock.com

A stroll through a rural area can be tranquil and wonderous, however, what you may not expect is the risk of Lyme disease. This tickborne disease has seen notable growth in the United States over the last 15 years. A newly released private insurance claims report is the latest to show diagnoses are on the rise, particularly in rural areas. 

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Between 2007 and 2021, private insurance claim lines with Lyme disease diagnoses increased dramatically by 357 percent in rural areas and 65 percent in urban areas. It should be noted that the claim lines are not the same as individual cases, where one patient with Lyme disease may have multiple claim lines.

Lyme disease is transmitted by a tick that is infected with the corkscrew-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi or less frequently Borrelia mayonii. When the outside-dwelling tick is feasting on its scrumptious host, the bacteria can be transferred from the tick’s salivary glands into host’s body. In humans, the bacteria multiply and evade the host’s immune system leading to Lyme disease. 

The most distinctive sign of infection is the Erythema migrans (EM) rash, that occurs in 70 to 80 percent of infected people, and has a "bull’s eye" appearance.

In this study, FAIR Health – a national, independent organization that was formed in 2009 and has one of the largest private insurance claims databases in the United States – conducted the analyses. This company used its database to analyze over 36 billion healthcare claims and analyzed 15 years of data for Lyme disease. The data from the study has been presented in an infographic. This study built on a previous analysis conducted between 2007 to 2016, which is also showcased in an infographic.

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In the current study, the diagnoses seem to peak nationally in June and July of each year, being more common in the rural areas than the urban. In November to April, Lyme disease diagnosis differed from the summer months and occurred more often in urban areas than in rural.

“Overall diagnoses are more frequent in urban areas because the population is larger in urban areas. However, our data indicate that diagnoses of Lyme disease in rural areas are increasing more rapidly,” Thomas Swift, chief operating officer at FAIR Health, told Gizmodo.

The top five Lyme disease states in 2021 are (from highest to lowest): New Jersey, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. With Maine being a new addition to the list compared to previous years.

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This increase in Lyme disease diagnosis is not unusual and is thought that tickborne diseases are becoming more common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 476,000 Americans are actually diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year. However, they do state that this number is probably an overestimate as sometimes patients are treated presumptively for Lyme disease.

Luckily, in most cases when caught early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. Although, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome can occur in a small percentage of people that have lingering symptoms. Despite this, there is a concern that climate change will increase tick-related diseases, and there are ongoing efforts for an effective vaccine for Lyme disease.

“Lyme disease remains a growing public health concern. FAIR Health will continue to use its repository of claims data to provide actionable and relevant insights to healthcare stakeholders seeking to better understand the ongoing rise of Lyme disease cases.” FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd stated.

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Overall, there has been a gradual increase in Lyme disease insurance claims over the last few years, and it looks like it will continue to rise.


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