For some reason, Americans tend to assume that Lyme Disease is isolated to the United States. It is understood that other diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and hepatitis, are prevalent throughout the world – but Lyme Disease is perceived to be an exclusively American disease. The reality is that Lyme Disease is a major problem all around the globe.
Understanding the vast prevalence of this infection is necessary for a proper perspective of the disease. Only when we recognize its true reach, severity, and ability to spread, will we be equipped to properly face Lyme Disease. An accurate understanding of the enormity of Lyme Disease gives patients enough respect for the disease to take it seriously and fight to heal, and gives practitioners and researchers the perspective necessary to allocate much-needed funds and resources to its study.
Recent research confirms the presence of Lyme Disease on all corners of the globe. Below is a brief summary of current findings.
In England, the British public has been warned by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to carefully protect themselves from tick bites due to a "sharp rise in the number of the blood-sucking parasites and increased cases of Lyme Disease in Hampshire, Dorset, and Berkshire." The increase in tick population has been blamed on a "particularly wet and mild summer." According to the HPA, "Lyme Disease is a highly infectious disease which is transmitted through tick bites and can lead to blindness, paralysis, and even death if left undiagnosed." Britons are advised to protect themselves by "wearing trousers, using insect repellent and checking their skin for ticks" after visits to the countryside. The HPA also notes that "incidents of Lyme Disease have increased by 90% since 2006 across the UK, and New Forest, South Downs, Dorset, and Berkshire have now been named as tick hot-spots."
The Department of Molecular Biology at Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, released a study in 2007 which stated that "The reported geographical distribution of Lyme Disease is constantly increasing in Sweden." The report cites findings which show that birds play a key role in the spread of Lyme Disease due to their long distance dispersal and their role as reservoir hosts for Borrelia. In addition to Lyme Disease in Sweden, Swedish researchers also discovered that sea birds in the Arctic region of Norway carry Ixodes uria ticks infected with Lyme Disease, specifically the Borrelia garinii strain. It has long been known that Borrelia garinii is one of the more common forms of Lyme Disease on the European continent, and this information shows the spread of this strain to new geographical areas.
In collaboration with U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) researchers, Russian scientists set out to determine which types of bacterial agents are found in the North Western region of Russia. The type of tick examined was Ixodes persulcatus. Researchers discovered the following:
Altogether, 27.7% of ticks were infected with at least one organism, while the DNA of two or more bacteria was found in 11.8% of ticks tested. The highest average prevalence of Anaplasmataceae (20.8%) was detected in ticks from Arkhangelsk province, while the prevalence in ticks from Novgorod province and St. Petersburg, respectively, was 7.3% and 12.2%. Only Ehrlichia muris DNA was identified by DNA sequencing. In comparison, the prevalence of B. burgdorferi DNA was 16.6%, 5.8%, and 24.5% in the respective locations.
The Russian researchers conclude with this statement: "Since I. persulcatus is so commonly infected with multiple agents that may cause human diseases, exposure to these ticks poses significant risk to human health in this region."
Researchers in Germany studied the influence of preventative measures on the risk of being bitten by a tick and suffering from Lyme Disease in children attending kindergarten in forested regions of Germany. Fifty-three schools were studied, encompassing 1,707 children. Researchers conclude that "children in forest kindergartens are at a considerable risk of tick bites and Lyme Disease."
In Poland, the Department of Occupational Biohazards investigated the prevalence of Lyme Disease bacteria in ticks collected from wooded areas. 1,813 ticks from six districts were examined by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Not only did researchers discover that a significant portion of the ticks were infected, they also were surprised to find that many ticks were infected with multiple strains of Lyme Disease bacteria, including Borrelia afzelii, Borrelia garinii, and a new yet-unnamed strain, "Borrelia b.s.1."
A Portuguese University, in a study of climate change, discovered that warmer and increasingly variable weather may result in an increased incidence of vector-borne diseases, including malaria, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Lyme Disease, and Mediterranean spotted fever.
A fascinating new report from the microbiology department at Raigmore Hospital in Scotland states that at least nine different strains of Borrelia have been documented in Scotland, including Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia sensu stricto. Additionally, a report appeared on September 15, 2007, in the North Scotland Press and Journal, entitled "Bloodsucking Ticks Blamed as Lethal Lyme Disease Cases Soar." This newspaper article not only documents the dramatic increase of Lyme Disease cases in Scotland, it also provides evidence that Lyme Disease can be fatal if not treated adequately. The article uses the word "rocketed" to describe the dramatic increase in cases over the past decade. Dr. Ken Oates of Health Protection Scotland observes that "There has been a genuine rise. Nobody can really say why. I would guess a summer like this which is warm and wet provides favorable conditions. Up to one in five ticks can carry Lyme Disease in Scotland."
As far away as Croatia, researchers are finding Lyme Disease. Amazingly, 3,317 cases were reported from 1987 to 2003 in Croatia. Northwestern Croatia showed the highest incidence. According to a report published by the Department of Public Health, "the clinical picture of Lyme Borreliosis in Croatia is dominated by erythema migrans, followed by neurological manifestations."
In Switzerland, according to researchers, "the incidence of tick-borne encephalitis has been clearly increasing since 2004, and this is caused mostly by Lyme Disease."
In Italy, 24 cases of Lyme Disease were documented over the last year. Keep in mind, the actual number of cases is probably much higher due to inadequate testing and diagnosis.
And let us not forget Canada. The Canadian Center for Disease Control states that "the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis, has a wide geographical distribution in Ontario, Canada, with a detected range extending at least as far north as the 50th parallel, and four out of five regions of Ontario affected." Additionally, "The Lyme Disease spirochete was detected in 12.9% of I. scapularis adult ticks." Also according to Canadian authorities, "characterization of B. burgdorferi in Canada displays a connecting link to common strains of Lyme Disease found in the northeastern United States." According to the Vector-Borne Disease Laboratory in British Columbia, "In 1994, British Columbia was declared an endemic region for Lyme Borreliosis." In Alberta, Lyme Disease has been found to be common in rabbit ticks. The Department of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal, notes in a recent report that "Lyme Disease is an expanding community health issue." The poor recognition of Lyme Disease by the medical establishment is not a phenomena limited to the United States: On September 17, 2007, CBS News Canada reported the story of approximately 100 Lyme Disease sufferers who gathered on Parliament Hill in Canada to get the attention of Canadian physicians. The aim of the gathering was to get better testing for the disease and more federal money devoted to research – many in the group say they were misdiagnosed by their physicians. Amazingly, according to the CBS report, "Lyme Disease is not a nationally reportable disease in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), meaning there are no statistics available on its prevalence." Yet, although not reportable, CBS goes on to state that "Borrelia burgdorferi is predominantly found in parts of British Columbia, southern and eastern Ontario, southeastern Manitoba, and parts of Nova Scotia." Try to figure out that contradiction: not reportable yet found practically everywhere. The CBS article concludes with the story of a Canadian professor who, after suspecting Lyme Disease, was forced to travel to the United States and pay more than $15,000 out-of-pocket for treatment. Now, with unrelenting persecution of Lyme doctors in the United States, appropriate Lyme Disease treatment may be harder and harder to find…anywhere in the world. The research identifying Lyme Disease in Canada goes on and on, with over 83 official published studies on Lyme Disease in Canada. The Canadian Lyme Disease Association can be visited at www.canlyme.org.
What about Africa? A report published in Africa notes that "Lyme Disease is now the most common vector-borne disease in Europe and North America, but there is also evidence that the disease is in Africa as well." Researchers found various strains of Borrelia in ticks located in Tunisia and Morocco, including the strains B. garinii, B. burgdorferi ss, and B lusitaniae. More than 40 published studies have been released chronicling Lyme Disease in Africa. On September 24, 2007, Afriqu'Echos Magazine, one of the larger news magazines in Africa, reported on a team of researchers who, from 1990 to 2003, studied the disease in Dielmo, a Senegalese village. They found that over 11% of Africans in the village have suffered from Borreliosis at one point in their life. The same article in Afriqu'Echos Magazine also quotes the French Institute of Research and Development (the IRD): "Lyme Disease is the most frequent bacterial disease in Africa, but it is also an affliction that is completely unknown to health professionals." The IRD evaluated a rural African area of Dakar and found that "Lyme Borreliosis was the most frequent reason for dispensary consultations after Malaria." The article in Afriqu'Echos Magazine further states that:
"Researchers also discovered that this disease caused recurrent fever in the long term which could result in serious meningoencephalitis, which was sometimes fatal – symptoms exactly similar to those of malaria. The disease is thus systematically confused with malaria, which explains, of course, why there has been so much failure in terms of treatment since treatment for malaria is not effective against Borreliosis. Only tetracycline antibiotics produce results. Diagnosis is also made difficult by the problem of detecting Borrelia crocidurae [note this new strain of Lyme Disease], the bacteria responsible for the disease. It is not detectable in the blood except during attacks of fever, and laboratory examinations are rarely possible in tropical Africa, in particular in rural areas."
Imagine the complexity now in Africa of untangling the diagnosis and treatment of two diseases which have similar symptoms but which health care practitioners are not trained to differentiate: Lyme Disease and Malaria, which are both presently ravaging Africa.
South America is not immune either. Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, and other countries have reported isolated, although increasing, incidences of the Lyme Disease infection. Numerous studies document Lyme Disease in South America.
The above information only scratches the surface. Many more pages would be needed to report all the available studies and articles. When discussing cases of Lyme Disease throughout the world, it should not surprise you that US borders do not contain the disease. After all, when crossing the border from the United States to Canada or Mexico, what are you really doing? You are leaving a political system, a leadership organization, a human-invented method for categorizing land. What you are doing is nothing more than crossing over from one imaginary boundary to another. In actuality, in terms of the physical environment, borders between countries are insignificant and hold no ecological significance. And so it is with Lyme Disease.
As you can see, the problem of Lyme Disease knows no borders. It knows no nationalities, no races, and no political systems. As a virulent bacterial infection, Lyme Disease simply spreads, and spreads, and spreads, and if something isn't done, the worldwide cases of Lyme Disease will do nothing but continue to increase.
Excerpted from 2008 Lyme Disease Annual Report: A Yearly Update for Doctors and Patients. ©2008 by Brian Rosner and contributing writers. BioMed Publishing Group, P.O. Box 9012, South Lake Tahoe, California 96158; www.LymeBookStore.com; 530-541-7200.
Bryan Rosner is an author and health-care journalist focusing his efforts on researching Lyme disease and related coinfections. He has written four books on these subjects. To learn more about his educational books and DVDs, visit www.lymebook.com or call 530-541-7200 to request a catalog.