Health

Tick-borne illnesses have increased 350% in rural America since 2007

Up to four times more Americans are catching Lyme disease than a decade-and-a-half ago, a study on insurance claims has suggested in another sign the illness is becoming more widespread.

Analysis by FAIR Health — owner of one of America’s largest claims databases — revealed a 357 percent surge in applications linked to the tick-borne illness from 2007 to 2021 across rural areas. But there was also an uptick in towns and cities, where it rose by 65 percent over the same period.

Experts warned more people were catching Lyme disease more than ever before across the United States. But the uptick may also be driven by surging awareness of the ‘invisible disease’, thanks to high-profile cases in celebrities including 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 symptoms for years. 

Analysis by FAIR Health looked through more than 36 billion private healthcare claims filed across most of America’s 50 states

Yolanda Hadid caught Lyme disease last year

Shania Twain said the disease left her suffering blackouts backstage

Yolanda Hadid (left) and Shania Twain (right) are among celebrities who have had Lyme disease. Experts say this may have raised awareness of the condition

Tick-borne illnesses have increased 350% in rural America since 2007

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread through a tick bite. It causes a round rash and can trigger flu-like symptoms but usually gets better with antibiotics within weeks or months. Pictured: Stock of tick

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread through a tick bite. It causes a round rash and can trigger flu-like symptoms but usually gets better with antibiotics within weeks or months. Pictured: Stock of tick

For the analysis, experts at FAIR Health combed through more than 36 billion private healthcare claims from America’s 50 states for all those mentioning Lyme disease.

They looked as those for antibiotics, and those for long-term symptoms including fatigue, muscle pain and confusion.

Doctors say patients can be left suffering after-effects of the illness for months, even when they receive treatment quickly.

WHAT IS LYME DISEASE? 

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by infected ticks.

It causes symptoms including a circle or oval-shaped rash around a tick bite, which usually appears within four weeks of being bitten, but may take up to three months to show.

Some people also get flu-like symptoms in the days after being bitten, including a high temperature, a headache, muscle and joint pain and a loss of energy.

And a few of those treated for Lyme disease continue to have symptoms, such as tiredness, aches and a loss of energy, that can last for years.

It’s not clear why some suffer from ongoing 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 — mainly 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.

The analysts also pointed to data from 2017, however, which showed North Carolina had the third highest number of claims — which they said suggested the disease was spreading in new areas.

FAIR Health did not reveal the raw numbers behind its percentages, because this was ‘not informative’.

When contacted by DailyMail.com, a spokesman pointed to a page run by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, which gave the figures for U.S. states individually by month as claims per 100,000 people. It did not give an overall figure for the country, or for rural vs urban areas.

Awareness of Lyme disease has risen in recent years after celebrities became infected with the illness.

Shania Twain was diagnosed with the disease in the early 2000s, saying it was ‘quite scary’ as it left her feeling very dizzy on stage and suffering blackouts.

Last year Yolanda Hadid revealed she had been diagnosed with the ‘invisible disease’ — which she said reduced her from a social butterfly to someone suffering anxiety, brain fog and flu-like symptoms.  

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also raised by a third its estimate of how many people are catching Lyme disease, in a sign it is becoming more widespread.

In 2014, they said 300,000-odd people were being infected every 12 months. But last year they raised this to 476,000.

FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd said their data suggested the illness remains a ‘growing public health concern’.

She added: ‘FAIR Health will continue to use its repository of claims data to provide actionable and relevant insights to healthcare stakeholders seeking to better understand the ongoing rise of Lyme disease cases.’

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted which is caught through being bitten by ticks typically hiding in long grasses and woodland.

Most cases are easily treated with antibiotics if caught in the early stages, but those that are left can lead to persistent symptoms.

The illness initially triggers fever and muscle aches within three to 30 days of being bitten.

A ‘bulls-eye’-shaped rash — medically termed an erythema — may also appear around the bite site, which is typically red but rarely hot or painful.

If they are left, patients can go on to suffer 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. 

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