Lyme Disease on Rise

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Lyme disease is caused by infection with a bacterium called a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) and is transmitted to humans by infected ticks (Ixodes scapularis and I. Pacificus). Patients with early stage Lyme disease have a characteristic rash (erythema migrans) accompanied by nonspecific symptoms (for example, fever, malaise, fatigue, headache, myalgia, and arthralgia). Lyme disease can usually be treated successfully with standard antibiotics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of a six-year survey study of Lyme disease from 1992 to 1998. During this period, a total of 88,967 cases of Lyme disease were reported to CDC by 49 states and the District of Columbia, with the number of cases increasing from 9,896 in 1992 to 16,802 in 1998. The researchers concluded that the increase in reported cases is probably a result of both a true increase in incidence within known high-risk areas as well as more complete reporting as a result of enhanced Lyme disease surveillance. They noted that surveillance capabilities and public awareness of Lyme disease have increased during this period.