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Kentucky has the fastest growing Lyme disease outbreak in the US, insurance data suggests

0 2 years ago
  • Insurance claims data showed Kentucky, West Virginia, Idaho, Ohio and Nebraska had the biggest upticks
  • But New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts had the largest outbreaks in the country, data showed
  • Experts said that ticks were expanding their range thanks to growing forest cover and deer populations
  • But surging awareness of the disease thanks to high-profile cases such as Shania Twain may also be behind some of the uptick in insurance claims
  • FAIR Health – which has one of the largest databases in the country – collected the data

Kentucky has the fastest growing Lyme disease outbreak in America, insurance claims data suggests — as experts warn global warming is allowing more aggressive northern ticks to advance into southern and midwestern states.

Statistics showed Kentucky was recording 10 claims per 100,000 people in 2021, up from just five in 2016 — a doubling in five years. West Virginia, Idaho, Ohio, and Nebraska each also saw claims surge more than 60 percent over the same period.

Experts warn that higher seasonal temperatures have opened up new habitats for ticks in more mountainous areas, which may fuel the rise in cases.

But they also say that surging awareness of the ‘invisible disease’ thanks to high-profile cases in celebrities including singer Shania Twain and socialite Yolanda Hadid has led many more people to go to doctors whenever they were bitten by a tick — even if they do not have the disease — leading to a concurrent rise in claims.

Dr Jonathan Oliver, a tick expert at the University of Minnesota, warned that expanding forest cover in some areas coupled with a larger deer population could also be helping the black-legged or deer tick — which can carry Lyme disease — expand its range out of the eastern United States.

He said the uptick in Idaho was an ‘anomaly’, and likely due to more people catching the disease on holiday in other states including nearby California, Oregon and Washington and then returning home.

Insurance claims for Lyme disease in the U.S. were lower in 2021 and 2020 than in the four years beforehand. But this drop was likely down to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to people being less likely to go outside or attend hospitals to seek medical care for fear of catching the virus.

New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts — in the ticks normal range — had the most claims for Lyme disease in 2021. Experts said claims are so high there because ticks in the region are more likely to carry the illness and there is a higher density of people, raising the risk of someone being bitten.

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