Home > Health, Safety, Training > CDC: Lyme Disease 10x More Common than Previously Reported

CDC: Lyme Disease 10x More Common than Previously Reported

Lyme disease strikes about 300,000 people each year, according to new information released by federal health officials. The new estimates suggest the disease is 10 times more common than previously thought.

Lyme disease: What you need to know about ticks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the new estimates, which were also released Sunday night at the 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases in Boston.  

Usually, only 20,000 to 30,000 illnesses are reported each year, making it the most commonly-reported tick-borne illness in the country. For many years, CDC officials have known that many doctors don’t report every case and that the true count was probably much higher.

The new figure is the CDC’s most comprehensive attempt at a better estimate. The number comes from a survey of seven national laboratories, a national patient survey and a review of insurance information.

“We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater,” Dr. Paul Mead, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC’s Lyme disease program, said in a press release. “This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention.”

Mead added to the Associated Press, “It’s giving us a fuller picture and it’s not a pleasing one.”

Interactive Lyme Disease Map
2001-2011

Ninety-six percent of U.S. Lyme disease case reports have come from 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The new study did not find anything to suggest the disease is more geographically widespread, said Mead.

If Lyme sounds awful, it’s nothing compared to the emerging threat of the Powassan (POW) virus. It is rarer — about 6% of ticks in New York’s Hudson Valley were found to carry it in a recent study, compared to about 50% for Lyme — but far more lethal, reports the Poughkeepsie Journal. About a third of those afflicted die.

To prevent against Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases like babesiosis, rickettsiosisRocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the Powassan virus, the CDC urges people to wear insect repellant, check themselves daily for ticks and shower soon after being outdoors.

Occupations at Risk

All outdoor workers should check with their supervisor if they have questions about possible exposure to Lyme disease. Workers at risk of Lyme disease include, but are not limited to, those working in the following:

  • Construction
  • Landscaping
  • Forestry
  • Brush clearing
  • Land surveying
  • Farming
  • Railroad work
  • Oil field work
  • Utility line work
  • Park or wildlife management
  • Other outdoor work

Recommendations for Employers in At-Risk Industries

According to the CDC, employers should protect their workers from Lyme disease by taking these steps:

  • Provide training for workers that includes information about the following:
    • How Lyme disease is spread
    • The risks of exposure and infection
    • How workers can protect themselves from ticks
    • The importance of the timely reporting of workplace illnesses and injuries
  • Recommend that workers wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and hat when possible.
    • If worker uniforms are provided, provide long-sleeved shirts and long pants as options.
  • Provide workers with repellents (containing 20% to 30% DEET) to use on their skin and clothing for protection against tick bites.
  • Provide workers with insecticides (such as permethrin)to provide greater protection. Permethrin kills ticks and can be used on clothing (but not skin).
  • When possible, have workers avoid working at sites with woods, bushes, tall grass, and leaf litter.
  • When avoiding these sites is not possible, personal protective measures are of particular importance. If work in these higher-risk sites must occur, take the following steps to reduce tick populations:
    • Remove leaf litter.
    • Remove, mow, or cut back tall grass and brush.
    • Control rodent and small mammal populations.
    • Discourage deer activity.

Recommendations for Workers

Take the following steps to protect yourself from tick bites:

  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots or socks.
  • Use insect repellents that provide protection for the amount of time you will be outdoors:
    • Follow repellent label directions for use.
    • Use repellents containing 20% to 30% DEET on your skin or clothing.
    • Reapply repellents as needed.
  • Use insecticides such as Permethrin for greater protection.
    • Permethrin kills ticks on contact.
    • Permethrin can be used on clothing but should not be used on skin.
    • One application of permethrin to pants, socks, and shoes typically stays effective through several washings.
    • Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for many (up to 70) washings.
  • Check your skin and clothes for ticks every day. The immature forms of these ticks are very small and may be hard to see.
    • Remember to check your hair, underarms, and groin for ticks.
    • Immediately remove ticks from your body using fine-tipped tweezers.
    • Grasp the tick firmly and as close to your skin as possible.
    • Pull the tick’s body away from your skin with a steady motion.
    • Clean the area with soap and water.
    • Removing infected ticks within 24 hours reduces your risk of being infected with the Lyme disease bacterium.
  • Wash and dry work clothes in a hot dryer to kill any ticks present.
  • Learn the symptoms of Lyme disease.
  • If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease seek medical attention promptly. Be sure to tell your health care provider that you work outdoors in an area where ticks may be present.
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