Heat map showing the expanding range of CDC reports of Lyme disease

CT Study Finds New Threats

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), funded through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conducted a statewide study of Connecticut ticks and the diseases they carry. Samples were collected between April and October of 2019. The study determined that deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis, are by far the most common in CT. Shockingly though, they found two new species. Several lone star as well as Asian longhorned ticks were found, in a first for CT.

CAES reported that close to half of collected ticks were infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism that causes Lyme disease, which is a scary thought when they analyzed over 30,000 deer ticks over the past 20 years.

“You need to be vigilant about protecting yourself from the exposure to ticks,” said Doug Brackney, an associate scientist who oversees the team that tests the ticks.

McGirl, S., First Statewide Tick Study, NBC CT, 3/5/20

New York is Seeing the Same Issue

At the same time as the CT study, the spokesperson for the CDC, Kate Fowlie, commented to Newsweek,

“Tickborne diseases increasingly threaten the health of people in the United States. In 2017, state and local health departments reported a record number of cases of tickborne disease to CDC, 59,349 cases, up from 48,610 in 2016… New tools for preventing tickborne diseases are urgently needed, and everyone should take steps to help protect themselves from tick bites.”

Highnett, K., Lyme Disease: New York Official Warns of Potential Spike, Newsweek, 6/27/20

Celebrities Aren’t Spared Either

This disease is not relegated to just common folk, a 2003 Lyme disease infection left Shania Twain unable to perform. She didn’t return to signing until 2017 after several surgeries. Healthline interviewed a Lyme disease specialist, Dr. Tania Dempsey, about the Shania Twain’s experience with the disease,

“I have seen several cases of vocal cord paralysis in my practice, so it’s not as unusual as it seems… Lyme presents differently depending on how the immune system responds and whether other co-infections are present.”

Curley, B., Shania Twain’s Vocal Cord Damage, Healthline, 2/25/20

What Does the Data Tell Us?

There are approximately 30,000 Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC each year from all 50 states, including Washington D.C. The CDC, however, estimates that around 300,000 people may actually contract Lyme disease per year in the United States. As with most diseases, reports of infections are believed to be much lower than the true number. People may not know they are infected or be misdiagnosed.

Take a look at the data mapped out from almost 20 years of compiled data. Here is the density map of 2001,

Heath map of CDC Reports of Lyme 2001
Source: CDC Tick Data

And now from 2018,

Heat map of CDC reports of Lyme 2018
Source: CDC Tick Data

Keep in mind, each dot represents one case reported to the CDC. The change between the two maps is quite drastic. There is an increased number of reports and the coverage area is increasing. 96% of reports are located in only 14 states. Lyme disease seems to be centered in both the Northeast and the Upper Midwest.

One Likely Cause

One thing is known, the warmer winters that the Northeast has been experiencing in the recent past are part of the reason population explosion. WFSB in Connecticut interviewed Chief Entomologist for CAES, Dr. Stafford, who said,

“The adult stage of our black legged tick or Lyme tick doesn’t hibernate. So, it’ll be active even on warm days in the winter, so we can have a beautiful weekend here coming up, this tick will be active.”

Polansky, R., New Tick Threats Emerging in Connecticut, WFSB, 2/21/20

A research scientist on the project stated,

“Fewer of them were killed and then they can become active earlier and have a better chance to find deer or a human or something to find a blood meal, that gives them an extended window.”

Polansky, R., New Tick Threats Emerging in Connecticut, WFSB, 2/21/20

What Does This Mean For Me?

New Jersey is not far from CT or New York, and Lyme disease still poses a credible threat to our area. The best protection is to stay knowledgeable. Be sure to perform self checks,and stay proactive with your health. Self checks should be done after any outdoor activity, making sure to check every part of your body, even covered areas. Screenings for tickborne diseases should be done at every annual wellness visit. This can be done through a simple blood test. It is also best to see your physician as soon as possible, should any “signs and symptoms” occur. Staying proactive will help decrease our chances of becoming part of the CDC’s 300,000 per year.