Insurance data shows sharp rise in Lyme disease in US

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August 3, 2022 — Diagnoses of Lyme disease have risen dramatically in the United States over the past 15 years, increasing 357% in rural areas and 65% in urban areas, according to new data released by FAIR Health .

Trends show that tick-borne illnesses are becoming a more common concern nationwide, not just in areas where Lyme disease was historically discovered.

“Lyme disease remains a growing public health concern,” Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health, said in a statement.

FAIR Health is an independent, national, nonprofit group that highlights health care information by reviewing data from its collection of more than 36 billion private insurance claim records.

“FAIR Health will continue to use its claims data repository to provide actionable and relevant information to healthcare stakeholders seeking to better understand the continued rise in Lyme disease cases,” Gelburd said.

The 15-year analysis included private insurance claims from 2007 to 2021, which showed a 357% increase in Lyme disease diagnoses in rural areas and a 65% increase in urban areas. Over the past 5 years, from 2016 to 2021, diagnoses have increased by 60% in rural areas and 19% in urban areas.

Cases peak during the summer months, when people spend more time outdoors in grassy areas, wooded areas, parks and fields where ticks live. In June and July, Lyme disease diagnoses were more common in rural areas, but from November through April, diagnoses occurred more often in urban areas.

Historically, Lyme disease cases have been a major problem in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, but the range has expanded in recent years. In 2017, the highest rates were in New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont. North Carolina, which had the third-highest rate of diagnoses, came as a surprise to the researchers.

But in 2021, North Carolina didn’t break the top five. New Jersey continued to have the highest proportion of Lyme disease diagnoses, followed by Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut. With Maine coming third on the list, the researchers expressed concern over “a growing presence of tick-borne disease in the state.”

The data showed that Lyme disease can still affect patients long after the infection has been treated, also known as chronic Lyme disease. Although antibiotics can treat the disease, some patients develop long-term symptoms such as fatigue, mental dysfunction, and muscle and joint pain. The FAIR Health analysis found that diagnoses such as malaise, fatigue and soft tissue problems were more common among Lyme disease patients.

Most cases of Lyme disease are mild and some people may not know they are sick. But in more severe, untreated cases, the disease can spread to the heart, joints, nervous system and major organs, which can lead to neurological problems that occur weeks or months after an infection. Serious complications can include meningitis or inflammation of the brain, as well as temporary facial paralysis and limb weakness.

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