The dramatic revelation recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that there are 300,000-plus new cases of Lyme disease each year has burned up the news wires, as well it should.
Lyme is a miserable disease that, if left untreated or misdiagnosed, can lead to a lifetime of suffering. The CDC's report confirms what many have suspected for a long time — Lyme disease is a significant public health concern.
And while reports indicate the bulk of cases are in the Northeast, we Californians should pause before we take that sigh of relief.
Lyme disease has been reported in California and 48 other states. The California Department of Public Health reports that the Western black-legged tick, which transmits Lyme disease in California, has been found in 56 counties. The agency also said ticks testing positive for the disease-causing bacteria have been found in more than 40 counties.
At Bay Area Lyme Foundation, through a grant to Stanford's Woods Institute, we have been documenting Bay Area tick infection rates. There is no question that Lyme is here, along with several other nasty co-infections. We will continue until we have the complete picture.
Luckily, the overall tick infection rate has not reached East Coast levels, and the number of human cases is low — for now. Let's keep it that way by understanding the environments ticks prefer (wooded, more humid), that in California tick season is year-round and that there are steps you can take (proper dress, tick checks and more) to lessen exposure. You should know its symptoms and the absolute importance of early treatment.
Californians can also take the lead in solving this Lyme crisis by finding reliable diagnostic tests that will ensure early treatment and a cure for those still suffering.
Right now, diagnostic tests are woefully inadequate, meaning you could wait many weeks until you know or, worse, be misdiagnosed and not treated.
For too long, research for Lyme disease has been neglected — receiving $1 in per-patient funding compared to $910, say, for the West Nile virus. Lyme research has not benefited from the world-class research institutions in our state or the technology and talent of Silicon Valley.
We Californians can change that, and there is reason for hope. Since the Bay Area Lyme Foundation started a little more than a year ago, we have been impressed by the pockets of innovation we have found in our own backyard and worked hard to apply those to Lyme disease.
So let's protect ourselves and our families and also take the lead in eliminating this miserable disease and the many co-infections it brings along for the ride.
Ana Thompson is executive director for the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit dedicated to making Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure. Read more at www.bayarealyme.org and come to the benefit Polo for Lyme on Oct. 13 to learn more.