As many as four times as many Americans have contracted Lyme disease a decade and a half ago, a study of insurance claims suggested in another sign that the disease is becoming more prevalent.
An analysis by FAIR Health – owner of one of America’s largest claims databases – revealed a 357 percent increase in applications associated with tick-borne diseases from 2007 to 2021 across rural areas. But there was also an uptick in towns and cities, up 65 percent over the same period.
Experts have warned that more people are getting Lyme disease than ever before across the United States. But the rise may be driven by increased awareness of the “invisible disease,” thanks to high-profile cases in celebrities including singer Shania Twain and socialite singer Yolanda Hadid.
People who said they have recovered from the disease today called on Americans to “take this seriously,” adding that it could leave them with symptoms for years.
Analysis by FAIR Health examined more than 36 billion private healthcare 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 raised awareness of the condition
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through a tick bite. It causes a round rash and can produce flu-like symptoms but usually improve with antibiotics within weeks or months. Pictured: tick stock
For the analysis, experts at FAIR Health combed through more than 36 billion healthcare claims from 50 US states for all those who mention Lyme disease.
They looked for those that were used for antibiotics, and those for long-term symptoms including fatigue, muscle aches, and confusion.
Doctors say patients can be left with the after effects of illness for months, even when they receive treatment quickly.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by infected ticks.
It causes symptoms including a circular or oval-shaped rash around the tick bite, which usually appears within four weeks of being bitten, but can take up to three months to appear.
Some people also develop flu-like symptoms in the days after a bite, including a high fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and loss of energy.
A small number of those treated for Lyme disease still experience symptoms, such as fatigue, aches and loss of energy, that can last for years.
It is not clear why some have persistent 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 the grassy and wooded areas of northern and southern England, as well as the Scottish Highlands.
People are advised to remove the tick safely and as quickly as possible using tweezers.
Breaking down the data by region showed that New Jersey — primarily metropolitan — had the highest number of Lyme disease claims filed in 2021.
But Vermont and Maine—mostly rural areas—had the second and third highest number of claims.
Analysts also pointed to 2017 data, which showed North Carolina had the third-highest number of claims — which they said indicated the disease was spreading to new areas.
FAIR Health has not disclosed the raw numbers behind their percentages, as this was not “helpful”.
When contacted by DailyMail.com, the speaker referred to a page run by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, which gave the numbers for US states individually each month by claims per 100,000 people. It did not give an overall figure for the country, or rural versus urban areas.
Awareness of Lyme disease has increased in recent years after celebrities contracted the disease.
Shania Twain was diagnosed with the disease in the early 2000s, saying it was ‘very scary’ because it left her feeling dizzy on stage and suffering from blackouts.
Last year, Yolanda Hadid revealed her diagnosis of the “invisible disease” — which she said transformed her from a mere social butterfly into someone suffering from anxiety, brain fog and flu-like symptoms.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also raised by a third its estimate of how many people get Lyme disease, a sign that it’s becoming more prevalent.
In 2014, they said 300,000 people were infected every 12 months. But last year they raised that number to 476,000.
Robin Gilbord, president of FAIR Health, said their data indicated that the disease remains a ‘growing public health concern’.
He added, “FAIR Health will continue to use its claims data repository to provide actionable and relevant insights to healthcare stakeholders seeking a better understanding of the continuing rise in Lyme disease cases.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by tick bites that usually hide in tall grasses and woodlands.
Most cases are easily treated with antibiotics if caught in the early stages, but the remaining cases can lead to persistent symptoms.
The disease initially causes a high temperature and muscle aches within three to 30 days of being bitten.
A ‘bull’s eye’ rash – medically called erythema – may also appear around the site of the bite, which is usually red but rarely hot or painful.
If left, patients can continue to suffer from severe headaches, drooping one side of the face, and dizziness.
In some cases, it can also cause inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, leading to behavioral difficulties and memory problems.
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