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Editorial: A bigger problem

Whether data released at a recent conference on Lyme disease are new numbers or simply a more thorough examination of existing information doesn’t alter the sense that an incredible alarm bell has just gone off on how widespread the health problem may be in our country.

During the 13th annual International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and other Tick Borne Diseases, figures based on three studies, now suggest that the incidence of the disease have been grossly under-reported for years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, “... the number of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year is around 300,000. ... This new estimate supports studies published in the 1990s indicating that the true number of cases is between 3- and 12-fold higher than the number of reported cases.”

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. People get the disease by being bitten by infected black-legged ticks, which are endemic throughout New England and the Northeast.

The three studies looked at different parts of the equation, according to the CDC, “The first project analyzes medical claims information for approximately 22 million insured people annually for six years, the second project is based on a survey of clinical laboratories and the third project analyzes self-reported Lyme disease cases from a survey of the general public.”

“This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention,” said Dr. Paul Mead, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC’s Lyme disease program.

Prevention includes individuals taking steps to protect themselves, including using some kind of repellent, self-examination for ticks, taking a shower after being outside and getting in touch with your doctor if you get a fever or rash.

But that’s not enough.

“We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem,” concludes Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

It’s also going to take more effort from the federal government, too, to put money into more research into all aspects of this problem.

To what degree lower figures have kept Lyme disease have kept it from getting the attention it should may not be easy to figure out — but these new numbers should get everyone’s attention ... and quickly.

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