CDC Raises Estimate of Lyme Disease Burden

"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, M.D., MPH, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC's Lyme disease program.

Calling it a "preliminary estimate," CDC announced Aug. 28 that it calculates about 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, which is 10 times more than the 30,000 cases of Lyme disease currently being reported to CDC. The preliminary estimate was presented at the 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases and comes from three current CDC studies. One is analyzing medical claims information for approximately 22 million insured people annually for six years, another uses a survey of clinical laboratories, and the third analyzes self-reported Lyme disease cases from a survey of the general public.

Even the 30,000 cases of Lyme disease being reported to CDC each year rank it as the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States. According to CDC's release, the new, much higher estimate supports studies published in the 1990s indicating the actual number of cases is between 3- and 12-fold higher than the number of reported cases. Reported Lyme disease cases are heavily concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest, according to the agency.

"We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater," said Dr. Paul Mead, M.D., MPH, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC's Lyme disease program. "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."

CDC intends to publish finalized estimates when the studies are complete.

"We know people can prevent tick bites through steps like using repellents and tick checks. Although these measures are effective, they aren't fail-proof, and people don't always use them," said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, M.D., MPH, director of CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. "We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem."

CDC recommends these precautions to help prevent Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases:

  • Wear repellent
  • Check for ticks daily
  • Shower soon after being outdoors
  • Call your doctor if you get a fever or rash

For more information on Lyme disease, visit www.cdc.gov/lyme.

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