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Risk of Lyme disease costs United States billions

April 18, 2017
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LymeA new study by researchers at Yale University found the fear of contracting Lyme disease is keeping people from spending time outdoors. Photo by Pexels/PixaBay
April 18 (UPI) — Researchers at Yale University found that perceived risk of contracting Lyme disease causes many in the northeast United States to forgo outdoor trips.
Lyme disease, prevalent across the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region, is transmitted through a bite by a tick infected with the bacterium Borrella burgdorferi and can cause fever, headaches, fatigue and skin rash.
Insect repellent can protect against tick bites and removing ticks can also prevent infection.
The study found that people in the northeastern United States will make 1 billion fewer trips to the outdoors hiking in the woods or trips to parks, causing approximately $2.8 billion to $5 billion in lost revenue every year.
“Lyme disease has been around for a few decades but still has a big cost to society,” Eli Fenichel, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, or F&ES, said in a press release. “But the cost is not what people spend on doctors, or medicine, or even bug spray. These are costs that everybody incurs because we’re all choosing second-choice activities to avoid getting Lyme disease. It’s a lot of people making very small changes, but in such a densely populated region that has major impacts.”
Researchers analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics project that shows how people spend their time, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2003 to 2012, to determine the impact Lyme disease has on human behavior.
The study showed that the average person spent 1.54 fewer minutes outside per day in response to the average 72.17 Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC, or about 9.41 hours annually.
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“People are giving up trips, and it’s not just hiking and camping in the woods,” Kevin Berry, a former postdoctoral scholar at F&ES, said. “It’s trips to the park, soccer games, or walks and bike rides in places where there are stands of trees and tall grasses … a wide variety of activities pretty much anywhere in this part of the Northeast that’s outdoors.”
According to Fenichel, Lyme disease represents one of many environmental problems and can have minor impacts on people, but may place profound costs on society.

Lyme: Hyperthermia wins again

After years of sickness, a Massachusetts teen was diagnosed with Lyme disease and her family took what some might call drastic measures to help her get well.
For Sara Mulhern, nine years of sickness started at summer camp on the Cape.
“Kind of like flu-like symptoms. I had a very high fever and I knew something was wrong,” Mulhern said.
A local doctor thought it was a virus. But in the years that followed, Sara would be diagnosed with dozens of ailments including obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic fatigue, arthritis and depression.
By high school, she was missing more than 100 days of school.
“It was really the school psychologist that said, “God, have you looked at Lyme?” Sara’s father, Bob Mulhern, said.
Testing revealed Sara had nine of the 10 markers indicating a Lyme diagnosis; a conclusion that motivated her parents, Bob and Tina Mulhern. For months, doctors tried several antibiotics, both oral and intravenous but they weren’t helping.
“That whole entire year, I was just researching. I’d be up until 3 in the morning,” Tina Mulhern said.
That research led them to the St. Georg Klinik in Germany. Doctors there believe whole-body hyperthermia treatments can rid the body of Lyme. A patient’s body temperature is raised above 105 degrees. The clinic said that kills off the bacteria making them sick.
<=”” p=”” style=”box-sizing: border-box;”>After much thought and consulting with Sara’s doctor, she decided to try it.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I really do want to continue my life and I think even though it’s scary, it’s totally worth it,” Sara Mulhern said.
A fundraising website helped with the costs, raising $60,000 in 30 days. Sara prepared with sessions in an infrared sauna and IV antibiotics. In January, she made it to the clinic and through two rounds of hyperthermia treatments.
“I literally felt like I was on a new level. I was like, I feel so good,” Mulhern said.
She felt well enough to make a trip to Paris with her mother without any of the symptoms that had been dogging her for years.
“We had so much fun. This part of her personality was just tucked away,” Tina Mulhern said.
Now, Sara is still recovering and said she feels amazing. She plans to start college next spring. Her parents almost can’t believe the change.
“She now has the energy and she has the appreciation of being healthy and being able to do the things now that she couldn’t do before,” Bob Mulhern said.
Chronic Lyme disease is not officially recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is controversy as to whether the condition really exists. In the United States, hyperthermia has been tested in cancer treatment clinical trials, but it’s still considered an experimental technique at this time.

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