The backyard insect that could spell your doom

A disease spread by a common insect has long been considered easy to cure. But now researchers warn that its bite frequently can lead to endless years of suffering and serious health consequences.

Data compiled at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health show that Lyme disease, which you get from a tick bite that transmits the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, can result in years of medical treatment and tests while you suffer from extreme fatigue, muscle aches and a foggy memory.

The research shows that anywhere from 240,000 to 440,000 people newly acquire this infection every year. The costs for treatment are skyrocketing: Medical expenses linked to Lyme now run between $712 million and $1.3 billion annually. That averages out to about $3,000 per person who contracts the disease.

Doctors used to believe that a case of Lyme could be easily cleared with a short round of antibiotics. But in many people that therapy doesn’t solve the problem. The continued suffering leads to years of medical tests and treatments with pharmaceuticals.

When you suffer a prolonged case of Lyme disease it is called either post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) or chronic Lyme disease. However, some healthcare practitioners argue that the condition is more psychological than physical.

In any case, the condition causes continued illness and medical costs.

“Our study looks at the actual costs of treating patients in the year following their Lyme diagnosis,” says researcher Emily Adrion. “Regardless of what you call it, our data show that many people who have been diagnosed with Lyme disease are in fact going back to the doctor complaining of persistent symptoms, getting multiple tests and being retreated. They cost the health care system about $1 billion a year and it is clear that we need effective, cost-effective and compassionate management of these patients to improve their outcomes even if we don’t know what to call the disease.”

In 1975, Lyme disease was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut. It mainly occurs along the east coast, from Maine to Virginia. The tick bite that causes Lyme initially forms a bullseye rash on the skin (although some Lyme victims say they never developed this rash). The disease can lead to nerve problems and rheumatic issues if it is not treated.

The recommended treatment for Lyme is a course of the antibiotic doxycycline, but the drug does not seem to always cure the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that up to 20 percent of people given antibiotics for Lyme continue to have problems with the disease. But the Bloomberg research found that more than 60 percent of people treated for Lyme continued to have some level of difficulties with PTLDS.

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.