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CDC: Lyme Disease Much More Prevalent Than Numbers Indicate

Officials Calling For More Research Into Other Tick-Borne Illnesses
A close-up of an engorged nymph and an engorged adult tick, compared to the size of a pencil. (file/credit: Getty Images)

A close-up of an engorged nymph and an engorged adult tick, compared to the size of a pencil. (file/credit: Getty Images)

CBS New York (con't)

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ATLANTA (CBSNewYork/AP) – Lyme disease is about 10 times more common than previously reported, health officials said Monday.

As many as 300,000 Americans are actually diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.

Usually, only 20,000 to 30,000 illnesses are reported each year. 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.

“It’s giving us a fuller picture and it’s not a pleasing one,” said Dr. Paul Mead, who oversees the agency’s tracking of Lyme disease.

WEB EXTRA: CDC Information On Lyme Disease | CDC Information On Powassan Virus

The ailment is named after Lyme, Conn., where the illness was first identified in 1975. It’s a bacteria transmitted through the bites of infected deer ticks, which can be about the size of a poppy seed.

Symptoms include a fever, headache and fatigue and sometimes a telltale rash that looks like a bull’s-eye centered on the tick bite. Most people recover with antibiotics. If left untreated, the infection can cause arthritis and more severe problems.

In the U.S., the majority of Lyme disease 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, Mead said.

Just last week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the CDC to study new and potentially fatal tick-borne illnesses.

In addition to Lyme disease, ticks are known to carry Babesiosis, Powassan virus and Borrelia miyamotoi.

Schumer said those diseases are worse than Lyme disease.

“It’s not your average Lyme disease. It’s transmitted within 15 minutes of the bite. Lyme disease, if you see a tick on you and pull it off within 24 hours you won’t get it,” Schumer said last week of Powassan virus. “For Powassan, you have a one out of three chance of actually dying if you get bitten by it. It’s a deadly disease and there is no cure.”

The senator added many tick-borne illnesses can be difficult to diagnose, highlighting the need for more research.

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