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It’s Time to Think About Lyme Disease Prevention

0 2 years ago

“— that you know of,” I interjected, then continued to rapid-fire questions about the expanding circular bull’s eye rash on his arm, a telltale sign of Lyme.

After learning that a couple of weeks prior he had gone hiking in a forested park in Michigan and had recently been experiencing fatigue and confusion, I exclaimed that he should go see a doctor and make sure to get a Lyme disease test.

A few days later, I received a text from my friend: “I’m so glad you talked to my dad, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and is being treated now.”

This wasn’t entirely surprising, given that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are more than 476,000 cases of Lyme disease per year in the United States, making it the most common vector-borne disease in North America.

When suspected and diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be easily treated with antibiotics. However, if not treated right away, the bacterial infection can cause potentially life-altering long-term issues such as neurological disorders, cognitive dysfunction, arthritis, and general malaise.

A study conducted at Brown University in 2019 found that up to 2 million people in the U.S. may be suffering from these long-term symptoms.

My friend’s dad was lucky to catch the characteristic rash quickly. Nevertheless, according to the CDC, about 20 to 30% of people with Lyme disease never have the bull’s eye rash and may go months before diagnosis due to the indistinct symptoms and difficulty of testing for Lyme disease.

Additionally, the diagnostic images used in clinical settings are typically of a pink rash on white skin, which contributes to medical racism and likely under- and delayed diagnosis of Lyme disease in people of color. Dan Ly at the University of California, Los Angeles confirmed this diagnostic bias with a 2021 study finding that 1 in 3 newly diagnosed Black patients already had neurological complications from Lyme disease, compared to 1 in 10 white patients.

So how can Lyme disease infections be avoided entirely? By preventing tick bites.


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