Considering Lyme Disease And Its Human And Social Cost

Posted by Mosquito Squad

June 12, 2014

When we consider the cost of a disease such as Lyme Disease, we usually think about the cost of treating the disease.  The cost of medical services, lab tests, diagnostic services, drug costs and the cost of rehabilitation services can all be understood using simple math.  For the individual and society, there are many more costs difficult or impossible to calculate.  A recent study published in March 2014, Severity of chronic Lyme disease compared to other chronic conditions: a quality of life survey, discussed these costs for Lyme Disease.

You may not know that 1% of the US population, or 300,000 people, will be diagnosed with Lyme Disease this year alone.  During that same period, the number of new cases of HIV/AIDS in the US will be 1/6 that number or 50,000 cases.  The point is not to compare diseases and the toll they both take on patients.  The only reason for mentioning these numbers is to talk about how many more people are impacted by just one of several tick-borne illnesses, in comparison to a more familiar disease.  There is far more money spent in HIV/AIDS research than Lyme Disease, despite the difference in the number of cases.  Many people believe Lyme is easily diagnosed and highly treatable, with little long-term impact to patients.

The actual number of Lyme Disease cases in the US is a major point of debate and has been for years.  There are several tests used to verify a patient has been exposed to the bacteria.  However, there is no test to prove someone has or does not have Lyme Disease.  The tests commonly used to diagnose Lyme Disease indicate if a patient’s blood system created antibodies against the bacteria that transmit Lyme Disease.  The recent study cited above indicates that 61.7% of the patients were not diagnosed for at least 2 years with Lyme Disease.

Physicians diagnosing Lyme Disease need a positive blood test for the antibodies or clinical evidence of the disease.  Clinical evidence may be a tick bite and flu-like symptoms described by the patient.  Many residents of Central Mass think that Lyme Disease always leaves a bulls-eye rash around the tick bite.  In many cases no tick bite is found.  The bulls-eye rash is also not found in 30% of the 300,000 cases.  Since it may take 1-4 weeks for the first symptoms to appear, the tick bite may have already completely healed.  Without any clinical signs, physicians are hesitant to prescribe antibiotics and provide treatment.

The difficulty of a correct diagnosis of Lyme Disease and subsequent treatment is further complicated by comorbidity.  Comorbidity means that more than one infection or disease may be present.  Not all tick-borne diseases are bacterial infections, such as Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis.  Some tick-borne infections are caused by parasites.  When comorbidity is possible for occurring, a correct diagnosis can be made for one disease and the other can be missed entirely.  Different ticks will often carry different diseases.  If you are in an area like Central Mass where ticks can carry different diseases, it’s unlucky but not impossible for two different ticks to transmit two different diseases.

In the case of Lyme Disease, the number of deaths is low.  The number of people misdiagnosed for years and those who develop Post Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) is high.  The CDC estimates that 10-20% of patients diagnosed with Lyme Disease will have lingering symptoms.  These symptoms can last longer than 6 months before subsiding.  In some cases, these 60,000 patients can’t concentrate at work and are in chronic pain.  Some are unable to return to work.

When we consider the number of patients involved, the number of cases misdiagnosed from inconclusive tests and symptoms, the length of time required to recover in cases involving PTLDS, the human and social cost of Lyme Disease becomes more evident.  The lack of research and funding into Lyme Disease continues to prevent us from determining the cost of this disease to the individuals diagnosed with it, as well as to the healthcare systems and society that supports them.

Helping prevent Lyme Disease in Central Mass is something we care about deeply. More tick bites happen at home than any other place which makes sense because your own property is where you spend the lion’s share of your time. We can eliminate 90%+ of the ticks in your yard with our barrier treatment tick control. Our program is designed to have your yard treated every 3 weeks throughout the entire tick season. In addition, we offer a tick tube program that works on eliminating nymph and larval (baby) ticks before they can begin their reign of terror.