What Do New CDC Lyme Disease Estimates Mean for Patients?
The CDC recently revised its previous estimate of 30,000 new annual Lyme disease cases in the U.S. to 300,000 or more new annual cases. This led to a rash of media coverage, and came as a tremendous surprise to most of the public and many doctors. However to the doctors and physicians at FirstCare Medical Center serving Highland and New Paltz it was not that surprising. We care for hundreds of Lyme Disease sufferers each year.
Why would such a dramatic (10-fold) difference be at all un-surprising? The answer to this question is complicated, and tied to many years of controversy surrounding Lyme disease, including controversies over testing (NIAID, 2012), diagnosis, treatment, and the persistence of Lyme (CDC, 2013a).
But the simpler answer to this question stems from the following, less controversial aspects of Lyme.
Lyme disease can be very difficult and complicated to diagnose through clinical or laboratory methods (NIAID, 2012).
If the disease is not caught early, later stage symptoms can be tricky to identify (CDC, 2013a).
Early and late stage symptoms overlap with a large number of other illnesses and conditions (NIAID, 2012).
What does the new estimate mean for patients?
This could indicate that an overwhelming majority of Lyme patients are unlikely to recognize their symptoms and unlikely to be recognized by doctors as having Lyme disease. Not all patients are aware of having been bitten, and not all patients experience or notice the tell-tale rash typically associated with early infection.
A point of confusion that seems to have stemmed from media coverage which patients and doctors should be aware of is that numerous articles stated there are now thought to be 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the U.S., rather than 300,000 new cases each year (CDC, 2013b). The difference is significant when considering the overall disparity of previous perceptions, versus the actual prevalence of Lyme.
CDC, 2013a. Lyme Disease (Sings and Symptoms, CDC).
CDC, 2013b. Press Release (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
NAID, 2012. Lyme Disease (Diagnostics Research, NIAID, NIH).