Up to four times as many Americans are getting Lyme disease than they were a decade and a half ago, a study of insurance claims has suggested in another sign the disease is becoming more widespread.
Analysis by FAIR Health, owner of one of the largest claims databases in the United States, revealed a 357% increase in claims related to tick-borne illness between 2007 and 2021 in rural areas. But there was also an uptick in towns and cities, where it rose 65 percent over the same period.
Experts warned that more people were contracting Lyme disease than ever before across the United States. But the rise may also be due to growing awareness of the “invisible disease,” thanks to high-profile cases involving 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 from symptoms for years.
The FAIR Health analysis looked at more than 36 billion private health care claims filed in most of the 50 US states.
Yolanda Hadid (left) and Shania Twain (right) are among the celebrities who have had Lyme disease. Experts say this may have increased awareness of the condition.
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 improves with antibiotics within weeks or months. Pictured: tick stock
For the analysis, FAIR Health experts reviewed more than 36 billion private health care claims from all 50 US states for all those that mentioned Lyme disease.
They looked like those of antibiotics and long-term symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain, and confusion.
Doctors say patients can suffer from the after-effects of the disease for months, even when treated quickly.
WHAT IS LYME DISEASE?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that infected ticks transmit to humans.
It causes symptoms including a circular or oval-shaped rash around a tick bite, which usually appears within four weeks of being bitten but can take up to three months to manifest.
Some people also have flu-like symptoms in the days after the bite, including high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and loss of energy.
And some of those treated for Lyme disease continue to have symptoms, such as tiredness, aches and loss of energy, that can last for years.
It is unclear why some suffer from ongoing symptoms and there is no agreed treatment for the disease.
Not all ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, but infected ticks can be found throughout the UK.
High-risk areas include parkland and wooded areas in the north and south of England, as well as the Scottish Highlands.
People are advised to remove ticks safely and as soon as possible with tweezers.
Breaking down the data by region showed that primarily urban New Jersey had the most Lyme disease claims filed in 2021.
But Vermont and Maine, mostly rural, had the second and third highest number 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 into new areas.
FAIR Health did not disclose the raw numbers behind their percentages, because this was “uninformative.”
When contacted by DailyMail.com, a spokesperson pointed to a page run by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, which provided figures for individual US states by month as claims per 100,000 people. He did not give an overall figure for the country, or for rural versus urban areas.
Awareness of Lyme disease has increased in recent years after celebrities have been infected with the disease.
Shania Twain was diagnosed with the disease in the early 2000s and said it was “pretty scary” as it left her very dizzy on stage and blacking out.
Last year, Yolanda Hadid revealed she had been diagnosed with the ‘invisible illness’, which she said reduced her from a social butterfly to someone suffering from anxiety, brain fog and flu-like symptoms.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also raised its estimate of how many people get Lyme disease by a third, in a sign that it is becoming more widespread.
In 2014, they said some 300,000 people were infected every 12 months. But last year they raised this to 476,000.
FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd said their data suggested the disease remains 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 continuing rise in Lyme disease cases.”
Lyme disease is a transmitted bacterial infection contracted by being bitten by ticks that usually hide in tall grasses and forests.
Most cases are easily treated with antibiotics if caught early, but those that remain can cause persistent symptoms.
The disease initially triggers fever and muscle aches within 3 to 30 days after the bite.
A “bull’s-eye” rash, medically called erythema, may also appear around the bite site, which is usually red but rarely hot or painful.
If left alone, patients can experience severe headaches, drooping of one side of the face, and dizziness.
In some cases, they can also cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord, leading to behavioral difficulties and memory problems.