The trends show that tick-borne illnesses are becoming a more common concern nationally, not just in the areas where Lyme disease has been found historically.
“Lyme disease remains a growing public health concern,” Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health, said in a statement.
FAIR Health is a national, independent nonprofit group that highlights health care information by looking at data from its collection of more than 36 billion private insurance claims records.
“FAIR Health will continue to use its repository of claims data to provide actionable and relevant insights to healthcare stakeholders seeking to better understand the ongoing rise of 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. In the past 5 years, from 2016 to 2021, diagnoses rose 60% in rural areas and 19% in urban areas.
The cases peaked in the summer months, when people spend more time outside 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 to 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 been growing 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, was a surprise to 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 in third on the list, researchers expressed concern about “a growing presence of the tick-borne illness in the state.”
The data showed that Lyme disease can still affect patients long after treatment for the infection, also known as chronic Lyme disease. Although antibiotics can treat the illness, 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-related issues were more common among Lyme disease patients.
Most cases of Lyme disease are mild, and some people may not know they’re sick. But in more serious and untreated cases, the disease can spread to the heart, joints, nervous system, and major organs, which can lead to neurological problems that come up weeks or months after an infection. Severe complications can include meningitis, or inflammation of the brain, as well as temporary face paralysis and weakness in the limbs.
FAIR Health: “Lyme Disease: A Continuing Concern,” “Lyme Disease Diagnoses Increased 357 Percent in Rural Areas over Past 15 Years, according to Private Insurance Claims.”