Up to four times as many Americans are getting Lyme disease than a decade and a half ago, a study of insurance claims has suggested in another sign the disease is spreading.
Analysis by FAIR Health – owner of one of America’s largest claims databases – found a 357% increase in tick-borne disease claims from 2007 to 2021 in rural areas. But there was also a slight uptick in towns and cities, where it rose 65% over the same period.
Experts have warned that more people are getting Lyme disease than ever before in the United States. But the rise may also be driven by growing awareness of the “invisible disease,” thanks to high-profile cases in celebrities such as singer Shania Twain and socialite Yolanda Hadid.
People who said they had recovered from the disease today called on Americans to ‘take this seriously’, adding that it could leave them suffering with symptoms for years.
FAIR Health’s analysis looked at more than 36 billion private healthcare claims filed in most of the 50 U.S. states
Yolanda Hadid (left) and Shania Twain (right) are among celebrities with Lyme disease. Experts say it may have raised awareness of the condition
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by a tick bite. It causes a round rash and can trigger flu-like symptoms, but usually improves with antibiotics within weeks or months. Pictured: tick stock
For analysis, FAIR Health experts combed through more than 36 billion private healthcare claims from all 50 US states for anyone who mentions Lyme disease.
They resembled those of antibiotics and those of long-term symptoms, including fatigue, muscle aches and confusion.
Doctors say patients can suffer from the disease for months, even when they receive prompt treatment.
WHAT IS LYME DISEASE?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by infected ticks.
It causes symptoms, including a circular or oval rash around a tick bite, which usually appears within four weeks of the bite, but can take up to three months to show up.
Some people also experience flu-like symptoms in the days following the bite, including a high temperature, headache, muscle and joint pain, and loss of energy.
And some of those treated for Lyme disease continue to experience symptoms, such as fatigue, body aches and loss of energy, that can last for years.
It is not known why some suffer from persistent symptoms and there is no agreed treatment for the disease.
Not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but infected ticks can be found across the UK.
High-risk areas include grassy and wooded areas in northern and southern England, as well as the Scottish Highlands.
People are advised to remove ticks safely and as soon as possible using tweezers.
Breaking down the data by region showed New Jersey — mostly urban — had the most Lyme disease claims filed in 2021.
But Vermont and Maine – mostly rural – had the second and third highest numbers of claims.
However, analysts also pointed to data from 2017, which showed North Carolina had the third highest number of claims – which they said suggested the disease was spreading to new areas.
FAIR Health did not reveal the raw numbers behind its percentages because it was “not informative.”
Contacted by DailyMail.com, a spokesperson pointed to a page run by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, which gave the figures for individual US states by month as claims per 100,000 people. He did not give an overall figure for the country, nor for rural versus urban areas.
Awareness of Lyme disease has increased in recent years after celebrities were infected with the disease.
Shania Twain was diagnosed with the disease in the early 2000s, saying it was “pretty scary” as it left her very dizzy on stage and suffering blackouts.
Yolanda Hadid revealed last year that she had been diagnosed with an ‘invisible disease’ – which she says has reduced her from a social butterfly to someone with anxiety, brain fog and symptoms flu-like.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also increased its estimate of the number of people who contract Lyme disease by a third, a sign that it is becoming widespread.
In 2014, they were saying that some 300,000 people were infected every 12 months. But last year they increased that number to 476,000.
FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd said their data suggested the disease remained a “growing public health problem”.
He added, “FAIR Health will continue to use its claims data repository to provide actionable and relevant information to healthcare stakeholders seeking to better understand the continued rise in Lyme disease cases.”
Lyme disease is a transmitted bacterial infection that is caught by the bite of ticks that usually hide in tall grass and woods.
Most cases are easily treated with antibiotics if caught early, but those that remain can lead to lingering symptoms.
The disease initially triggers fever and muscle aches within three to 30 days of being bitten.
A bulls-eye rash – medically called erythema – may also appear around the bite site, which is usually red but rarely hot or painful.
If left, patients may continue to experience severe headaches, drooping on one side of the face, and dizziness.
In some cases, they can also cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord which leads to behavioral difficulties and memory problems.