SALT LAKE CITY — Lyme disease is popping up in more counties across the U.S., according to a new study released Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report states that between 2008 and 2012, researchers found 260 counties with high rates of the disease, which is up from 69 between 1993 and 1997.
The report is titled “Geographic Distribution and Expansion of Human Lyme Disease, United States,” will be published next month in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The CDC reported that most cases of Lyme disease are reported from the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central states, “although the number of jurisdictions that report a high number of cases has increased over time,” according to the report. Researchers also found that “the center of the high-incidence focus in the northeastern United States generally moved westward and northward, away from the coast of northern New Jersey and into east-central Pennsylvania.”
Utah was not part of the report. However, Utahns who have survived the illness are calling on Utah health officials and others to become more aware of Lyme disease.
On a typical day, Jarrah Gerald empties five shelves from her food pantry and at least a couple of shelves in her fridge to down a concoction of prescription medication and vitamins.
“On average I take about 55 pills a day,” said Gerald. “I’ve been given a second chance at life. I was so ill. I was sure I was going to die.”
At one point, Gerald made funeral arrangements.
These days Gerald said she’s feeling healthier thanks to her medications, “I do a lot to try to build my immune system so my body can fight off the bacteria a little easier,” she said.
And thanks to a proper diagnosis two years.
Gerald said she and her family were enjoying a nice afternoon in American Fork Canyon two years ago.
“I noticed a rash when I got home when I was showering. I just thought it was a spider bite and that it would go away,” said Gerald. “I had the bullseye rash but I didn’t know. I wasn’t familiar with what that was.”
Ticks carry Lyme disease and are commonly found in eastern and Midwestern states.
Health officials report at least 300 diseases that mimic some of the symptoms of Lyme disease, including fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. Doctors report that the disease can kill if not treated early.
Gerald said Lyme disease can be a lonely illness because people are fearful of sharing their health condition with others.
“There are a lot of people with Lyme disease who are not open with it because it’s so misunderstood,” she said. Gerald also said sometimes people with Lyme disease become frustrated because “they’re often misdiagnosed.”
Initially, Gerald met with a doctor who conducted tests for “hundreds of illnesses” and found she displayed symptoms of Lyme disease.
“He said ‘it’s showing here that you should have Lyme diseases based on your symptoms but we don’t have Lyme disease in Utah,'” recounted Gerald.
After seeing two doctors, Gerald said Dr. Victoria Sucher in Provo diagnosed her with Lyme disease.
“She was Lyme-literate,” said Gerald. “I’ve been on antibiotics since August 2013, and I’m still on antibiotics.
The Utah Health Department has seen some cases of Lyme disease in Utah.
“We see 12, 15 or 20 people every year in Utah diagnosed with Lyme disease,” said Tom Hudachko, spokesman for the Utah Health Department. “We do have ticks in Utah that are capable of carrying Lyme disease. More research needs to be done to know whether or not there are ticks out there that are actually ‘carrying’ it as opposed to being ‘able’ to carry it.”
State health officials said researchers need more funding to do more research on the disease in order to help more Utahns.
“Most Lyme disease is highly treatable with antibiotics,” said Hudachko. “But there’s a small percentage of cases where if they’re not treated early enough, they can develop chronic Lyme disease.”
Gerald has attended a few meetings with a Lyme disease support group.
As a survivor of Lyme disease Gerald warns that more Utahns, including doctors and other health officials should become more educated on the disease and “realize that there are hundreds of people suffering quietly with Lyme disease,” she said. “Open your minds and get educated.”