Lyme disease and other insect-transmitted diseases are spreading into new regions of the United States and infecting people at an increased rate. Many environmentalists and scientists believe global warming is the culprit.
LYME DISEASE NOW IN ALL 50 STATES
A report released by Quest Diagnostics confirmed that Lyme disease has now reached all 50 continental United States.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes the increasing threat of Lyme disease through its carrier, a black-legged tick called the deer tick. These ticks have thrived in the northwest region of the US for decades, but cases of individuals diagnosed with the bacterial infection have steadily risen over the past fifteen years.
In Penobscot County, Maine, the infection rate is now eight times what it was in 2010, and scientists point to warmer temperatures and shorter winters as the cause of this increase.
“If you increase temperatures in general, what will happen is that the tick populations could move further north, expanding their range,” said Dr. Lyle Peterson, Director of CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. “As well as increasing the length of tick season which puts more people at risk for a longer period of time.”
EPA SAYS LYME DISEASE IS A CLIMATE INDICATOR
In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency singled out Lyme disease as one of two vector-borne infections that indicate climate change and specifically referenced the cases in Maine, where the most infections have occurred.
In comparison to Maine’s 71 cases in 2000, the most recent federal data counts 1,487 individuals who contracted the disease in 2016.
The CDC attributes this change in part to increased awareness of the disease and its effects if left untreated.
Dr. Peterson also recognized that the numbers of reported cases are still likely an underestimate of all inflicted citizens. In fact, the CDC thinks that the caseload could be 10 times higher than the numbers reported. Even the testing process, which challenges the immune system with Lyme bacteria, is not entirely accurate.
When an infected deer tick latches on to a human or animal and begins to suck in blood, it regurgitates the Lyme-causing bacteria into its host. The strain of bacteria present in deer ticks in the US is called Borrelia burgdorferi.
Lyme disease usually first presents as a rash, paired with joint pain and fatigue.
If left untreated, the disease can cause permanent damage to the nervous system.
TREATING LYME DISEASE
There is currently no approved vaccine for Lyme disease. But twenty years ago, a preventative vaccine called LIMErix debuted on the market for a short four years. Patients complained of increased joint pain and vulnerability to arthritis, although the correlation was never proven.
Another vaccine developed by biotech company Valneva is currently on Stage II in clinical testing and is far from federal approval.
Currently, the CDC in Maine focuses its grant money and energy on educational initiatives to avoid tick bites. According to scientists working at the Maine CDC, they have been steered away from climate research and its involvement since Governor Paul LePage was elected in 2010.
Through Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and other states with a high density of ticks, the CDC’s BRACE grant program is the only avenue of federal support for city health officials’ work on climate change and vector-borne disease. They primarily use the funds to conduct awareness and prevention programs in schools.