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Gone are the days when Lyme disease caused by tick bites was only prevalent in northeastern states. This disease is a now a relevant health concern all across the United States, and the numbers prove it. Quest Diagnostics, a company that analyzes clinical lab data, reviewed six million results of immunoglobulin (IgG) laboratory tests for patients in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia. Over a period of eight years (2010-2017), the IgG testing looked for antibodies that the human body produces in response to Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium spread by bites from the blacklegged tick (deer tick) and the western blacklegged tick.
Results showed that positive IgG tests indicating infection with Borrelia burgdorferi (which causes Lyme disease) rose steadily, with notable change from 6.7% in 2014 to 11.2% in 2017. The map below illustrates the occurrences by state:
Traditionally a common area for tick-borne illnesses, New England saw a 49.6% increase among infected patients from 2015 to 2017, and Pennsylvania saw a 78% rise in infected patients in the same time period. The surprise, however, has come from states not previously known for such illnesses. The number of patients with the infection rose 77% in Florida from 2015 to 2017, and that number skyrocketed 194.5% in California during the same time frame. These two states had the largest increases in positive test results outside of the northeastern region. Significant increases were also found in Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimating more than 300,000 cases of tick-related illnesses every year, it’s a definite cause for concern no matter where you live. Early signs of the disease include a red mark shaped like a bullseye near the site of the tick bite, a skin rash and flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, body aches, headache and fatigue. If not treated promptly, symptoms can become more severe and include arthritis, dizziness, muscle limitations and nerve pain. While Lyme disease is fairly simple to treat in its early stages, it can be quite difficult to diagnose.
Due to the difficulty of diagnosis, it’s important to pay attention and take proactive measures to defend against ticks by staying away from tall grass, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, tucking pants into long socks, wearing an insect repellent, and checking your body and animals for ticks. The earlier you check for ticks, the better, as Lyme disease is much less likely if you remove a tick within 36-48 hours of attachment.
Signs of Lyme disease are becoming more common in areas that previously saw little tick activity. Don’t assume you’re immune — make sure you and your loved ones are protected.