April 23, 2014

CDC says Lyme disease more common than previously thought

A deer tick (Photo: DNR)

A deer tick (Photo: DNR)

As many as 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported nationwide each year, although a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that number may actually be closer to 300,000. A Wisconsin expert says the disparity is likely the result of cases being misdiagnosed early on.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by deer ticks. Symptoms can include skin rashes, fever, headaches, and joint pain. The disease can lead to complications of the nervous system, heart, and joints. Wisconsin is among the 13 states that have the highest rates of Lyme disease in the nation, with more than 2,400 confirmed cases in 2011.

Wisconsin Division of Public Health epidemiologist Diep Hoang Johnson says the early symptoms that a person is infected can often mimic other illnesses and disappear quickly, which often leads to doctors not testing for Lyme disease or misdiagnosing the illness. Infections can also be missed if someone is tested too early. She says those are likely major factors in many of the cases being underreported, since the disease may is often recorded differently when complications develop during an infection’s more advanced stages.

Despite the CDC report, Hoang Johnson does not expect the method for tracking Lyme disease cases will change in the near future. She says officials need to focus more on better informing doctors and the public about the signs of a possible infection. She says people also need to be more wary about the possibility of tick bites and the growing presence of the disease in Wisconsin.