When the CDC released its report in May 2018 that vector-borne diseases had more than tripled since 2004, Lyme disease accounted for over 80% of the tick-borne diseases. Between 2000-2016, Illinois had 2,529 confirmed cases of Lyme, according to TickCheck.com. While not even 3,000 cases of the most common tick-borne disease in the entire state spanning 16 years may seem like Illinois got off pretty easy, it’s important to know these numbers do not represent a definitive count of how many actual cases there were.
It is widely agreed upon and acknowledged by public health officials at local, state, and federal levels that Lyme disease is grossly underreported. The actual number of cases of Lyme disease in any given area, is estimated to be likely ten times the number of reported cases. So in our case, we’re looking at probably 25,290 cases of Lyme disease between 2000-2016.
So why such a big difference? There are many reasons, and a lot of it comes down to the choices doctors have to make when diagnosing and reporting Lyme cases, and the limited resources (including staff) that health agencies can realistically devote to follow up on those diagnoses.
Semantics and procedures make Lyme numbers murky
It’s important to understand that “under-reporting” doesn’t necessarily mean under-diagnosing. In many cases, doctors safely conclude and diagnose Lyme disease and prescribe antibiotics without a blood test, by checking for the tell-tale rash and with the occurrence of other symptoms. However, without the blood test, public health officials cannot count the case as officially “confirmed.”
In public health, a case of a given disease is either “suspected,” “probable,” or “confirmed.” There are different classifications for each of these terms depending on disease, but for Lyme disease, the medical profession has agreed that “confirmed” means that a blood sample has tested positive for the bacterial antibodies present in an affected person. A “probable” case is when a patient has the telltale bullseye rash and a history of exposure to deer ticks. A “suspected” case can involve a variety of circumstances that don’t include the rash, exposure history, or a blood test.
These differences matter because the blood test “confirmed” number is what the CDC uses to aggregate their statistics across the country to create a national picture of a given disease’s prominence. To further complicate things, there are some people who are, in fact, infected by Lyme-causing bacteria whose bodies don’t begin generating antibodies until a month or more after infection. By then a person is treated and feeling well, and isn’t going to go back to the doctor for a lab test to confirm it. Why would they bother if they’re feeling better?
Regardless of “confirmed,” “suspected,” or even “probable” numbers, what matters is that there are more tick-borne diseases like Lyme and others than we think there are, and these rates are on the rise. The best way to protect yourself from contracting a tick-borne disease is by avoiding ticks all together. Mosquito Squad’s tick control method combines our already highly-effective barrier spray with tick tubes to eliminate ticks in your yard at every life stage, not just when they become adults. We guarantee nearly 90% (possibly more) reduction in ticks or your money back.