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News > Science and Tech

Risk of Lyme Disease 'Increases with Climate Change'

  • Higher temperatures mean a higher risk of Lyme disease, which will overwhelm Canadian and U.S. medical professionals.

    Higher temperatures mean a higher risk of Lyme disease, which will overwhelm Canadian and U.S. medical professionals. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 April 2018

If no effective treatments for are developed, 12 percent of the U.S. population will have Lyme disease by 2050, a new book warns.

The effects of climate change bring a heightened risk of Lyme disease as an army of ticks arrives for the warm weather in northern regions, a new book warns.

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In 'Lyme,' author and investigative journalist Mary Beth Pfeiffer explains that ticks are now able to withstand the mild winters which 30 years ago would have kept the black-legged deer tick at bay.

"[Lyme] has been in the environment for millions of years. That we know. But it really exploded just as climate change was getting to the point where we were noticing differences in temperature, differences in snowfall, differences in the length of growing seasons and so forth," Pfeiffer said.

Higher temperatures mean a higher risk of Lyme disease, which, the writer warns, will overwhelm Canadian and U.S. medical professionals.

Experts have developed a treatment which can identify and control the disease within ten to 21 days if diagnosed immediately. However, due to its deceptive Alzheimer or flu-like symptoms, cases can escalate and cause chronic life-changing effects.

"Lyme disease has been framed for a very long time as a disease that is easy to diagnose and easy to treat," Pfeiffer said. "As I discovered in my research, for many people, that's not the case. Mainstream medicine has vastly underestimated Lyme disease. We need to take another look at this disease." 

Canadian pop artist and performer Avril Lavigne, recovering from Lyme disease after contracting it in 2015, said: "There were definitely times I couldn't shower for a full week because I could barely stand. It felt like having all your life sucked out of you. I felt like I couldn't breathe, I couldn't talk and I couldn't move. I thought I was dying."

Cases of Lyme disease have increased in Canada over nine-fold in the last decade. In 2009, 144 cases were reported. Six years later, that figure had risen to 917. In New York, the state Health Department registers at least 8,000 cases annually.

Pfieffer warns that if no effective treatments are developed, by 2050, 12 percent of the U.S. population will have contracted the Borrelia pathogen.

One of the factors stalling research is the sheer cost, which, in the United States alone, is an estimated US$5 billion. However, the writer notes that diseases such as the Zika Virus received a total of US$1.1 billion in federal funding, while funding to HIV/Aids is US$26 billion per year.

In an interview with Bangor Daily News, Pfeiffer said: "This isn't about which disease tops the other as a public health calamity. It's about whether responses to each are proportional.

"There are two options to curb Lyme and tick-borne disease. First, get rid of or – more practically – sharply reduce ricks. Second, stop them from infecting people.

"We are a long way from reaching either of those goals. It is a problem of will, not ability. Science has tackled bigger problems and in less time."

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