While the medical and health community is putting a spotlight on diseases like Zika, Ebola and tuberculosis, another disease, transmitted by ticks, is getting little notice: Lyme disease.
The ticks that carry Lyme disease are spreading rapidly across the U.S. and are now located in nearly half of the country. The CDC estimates that 300,000 Americans are infected with Lyme disease. But the number of sufferers may be much higher, some Lyme disease experts believe. About 2.8 million have been diagnosed and a whopping 1.55 million are suffering lingering effects from the disease, also known as chronic Lyme disease or Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, according to Dorothy Kupcha Leland, vice president for education and outreach for LymeDisease.org.
That's a medical crisis when you consider that 40 percent of Lyme patients suffer from long-term health problems that can include brain and nerve damage as well as spinal cord and heart problems. Actor and songwriter Kris Kristofferson's Lyme disease diagnosis made headlines a few months ago when he was originally misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer's.
Taking care of these patients is costing the health-care system between $712 million and $1.3 billion a year, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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Part of the problem is that Lyme disease is very hard to detect and the testing is not always accurate. Many sufferers show no symptoms until it is too late for a single course of antibiotics to work. Current testing looks at the response of the patient to the disease rather than looking at the presence of the disease in the body. The symptoms of the early stages of Lyme disease, such as fatigue and joint pain, also mimic the symptoms of other diseases, such as arthritis, which make it hard to diagnose correctly. That's why it typically takes two years and five doctor visits before most patients get diagnosed, reports the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.