Op-Ed: Eight things to know about Lyme disease in Vermont

Many Vermonters are not aware that Vermont is number two in the U.S. for incidence of Lyme disease. According to the Vermont Department of Health, cases of other tick-borne diseases such as Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis are also steadily increasing in Vermont.

VTLyme.org is a new, nonprofit organization focused on providing equitable information and support to Vermonters affected by Lyme and tick-borne diseases. VTLyme.org is working to provide prevention education in Vermont schools, and to increase understanding about the symptoms and effects of tick-borne diseases on Vermonters. You can find more information at their website, www.VTlyme.org.

Here are eight things to know about Lyme disease

Not everyone gets a rash

According to the National Institutes of Health, “The most distinct symptom of Lyme disease –the circular red rash known as erythema migrans – does not appear in at least one quarter of people who are actually infected with Lyme bacteria.” In Vermont, recent data shows the incidence of EM rashes has been decreasing in Vermonters with confirmed Lyme disease.

It’s not just Lyme disease

According to the Vermont Department of Health, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, and Powassan Virus are all present in Vermont. Some of these tick-borne diseases may require a different test or treatment than Lyme disease.

Lyme disease can be diagnosed 12 months of the year

Vermont Department of Health data shows confirmed cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed all 12 months in Vermont. The majority of cases are diagnosed May through September.

Blood tests might not work

Because it may take weeks for antibodies to develop, the CDC notes, “testing an infected person too early can produce a negative result.” According to the Vermont Department of Health, “Even the best available Lyme testing is imperfect and should be interpreted in the context of the patient’s clinical presentation.”

  A person may have symptoms weeks, months, or years after being bitten

Treatment failure does occur, even with early diagnosis, so follow up visits for patients diagnosed with Lyme disease are essential. Vermonters with disseminated Lyme disease may need a different treatment than those in an early stage of the disease.

Other tick-borne infections, such as Babesia, may require a different approach than Lyme disease, or have different symptoms. It is possible for a person to be infected with a tick-borne disease and not experience any symptoms for months to years after a tick bite.

Not all ticks carry Lyme disease

Only four of 13 tick species in Vermont are known to carry pathogens. One of these four is responsible for 99% of all tick-borne diseases reported in Vermont – the blacklegged tick.

The Vermont Department of Agriculture 2018 tick report showed over 60% of the ticks tested positive for at least one disease. 56.7% were positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. 8.25% were positive forAnaplasma phagocytophilum (Anaplasmosis), 1.03% for Babesia microti (Babesiosis), 1.03% for Borrelia miyamotoi, and 1% for Powassan Virus. Approximately 5% of the ticks tested positive for two or more pathogens.

Remember, just because you have been bitten doesn’t mean you have contracted a tick-borne disease, and correctly identifying the type of tick that bit you will help you understand your risk for infection.

Vermont has a lot of Lyme disease

Vermont regularly tops U.S. states for incidence of Lyme disease. The most recent CDC surveillance numbers show Vermont’s incidence per 1000,000 people is 103.6. For comparison, the incidence rate in Connecticut was 38.5, New York’s was 17.6, and Massachusetts rate was 4.7.

The CDC designates a state a “High Incidence State” when there is an average incidence of at least 10 confirmed cases per 100,000 persons for previous three reporting years. Vermont’s three-year incidence rate is 86.7 per 100,000 persons.

  Lyme can affect mood, cognitive performance, and mental health

According to the Global Mental Health Program at Columbia University “significant cognitive and psychological symptoms are being recognized as part of the symptom pattern associated with untreated and/or chronic Lyme disease.”

Depression can be a component of Lyme disease. Case studies show symptoms of Lyme disease can be similar to symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Research has also shown a possible connection between Lyme disease and suicidality.

In children, Lyme disease may appear as a learning disability, difficulty with memory or processing, self-harming behavior, vision changes, or ADHD. Learn more about Lyme and mental health at www.VTLyme.org.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. VTLyme.org, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, is currently raising funds to offer free presentations, information and resources to Vermonters about Lyme and tick-borne diseases. Your contribution is sincerely appreciated at www.VTLyme.org or at www.gofundme.com/vermont-lyme-nonprofit-may-2019-vtlymeorg.

Written by Rebecca Zelis at VTLyme.org.

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