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How Have Tick-Borne Diseases Grown in the United States?


Patricia Smith, President of the Lyme Disease Association, Inc, discusses how tick-borne diseases have grown in the United States.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability):

“The growth [of tick-borne diseases] has been significant, in the past 10 years or so. Originally, Lyme disease was the main focus, and still is because there are about 400,000 cases annually, in the United States alone. Now what’s happened is that there are a lot of other diseases that are beginning to ‘rear their heads’ and we are up to about 20 [tick-borne] diseases in this country. Some of these diseases are carried by the same black-legged ticks that transmit Lyme disease That is problematic because if you get bitten by that tick, you can get more than 1 disease. And so, now we are seeing anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, bartonellosis, Powassan virus, and many other diseases from 1 tick bite. The increase in Lyme and the associated diseases is just unbelievable.

Doctors are seeing an increase in coinfections with [Lyme and] other tick-borne diseases. Not as much with the viral diseases, although it does happen [for example] with Powassan virus. Powassan virus case numbers are still relatively low, but it is seriously because it has a 10%-15% fatality rate. They are seeing coinfections with, for example, babesiosis, bartonellosis, and anaplasmosis. Those are the ones, I believe, that they are seeing most frequently.

Having coinfections makes diagnosis and treatment a lot more difficult. There are tests for some of [the infections], but not for others, and the tests are not that reliable, especially for Lyme. That really clouds the diagnostic picture for the clinician, who is already struggling to understand all of these diseases, [as well as] the limitations of the testing. To make a clinical diagnosis is very hard, and they often have to do that for Lyme. They may be able to gain positive tests results for Lyme or the other tick-borne diseases, but [the presence of co-infections] makes it extremely difficult for the clinicians."
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