Lyme disease affects 14% of the world’s population, according to a new study

For the first time, new research attempts to dig into exactly how many people have had Lyme disease, and it could be more than 14% of the world’s population.

The study, published in BMJ Global Health on Monday, builds on 89 studies of the tick-borne disease, and is the first to measure antibodies against the bacteria that cause Lyme disease on a global scale, said Dr. Peter Krause. , senior researcher. scientist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, told NBC News.

The demographic group most at risk are men over the age of 50 who live in rural areas. The region where Lyme disease is most prevalent is Central Europe, with around 21% of residents testing positive for antibodies. In North America, the rate was around 9%. The Caribbean had the lowest prevalence at 2%.

Over the past 20 years, rates of Lyme disease have been on the rise, the researchers found. From 2001 to 2010, 8% of people studied had antibodies, compared to 12% from 2011 to 2021. The trend is likely explained by climate change and deer ticks’ preference for heat and humidity. Summers have also gotten longer (and winters shorter), and humans live closer to forested areas.

The 14% overall rate “seemed like a great number to me,” said Dr. Natalie Azar, medical correspondent for NBC News, Tuesday TODAY.

Krause agreed, but wasn’t entirely surprised. “This is not like, ‘My God, there are a lot more diseases than we thought there were,’” he said. “These numbers are a little higher than I would have thought, but this is not a revolutionary finding.”

Lyme disease symptoms

Azar added that about three-quarters of people infected with Lyme disease will develop the stereotypical symptoms, making early detection easier. But those who don’t get treatment quickly enough “can develop these prolonged and quite debilitating symptoms,” she said.

RELATED: It started with a tick bite. How I lost my husband to undiagnosed Lyme disease

Typical signs of Lyme disease include a flu-like illness and a red rash that looks like a target. “But after that, patients may have central nervous system (symptoms), fatigue, headache, or actual neurological deficits.” It is also possible to show some symptoms but not develop the characteristic rash.

The most extreme cases of Lyme disease can last for months and can cause nerve pain, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and paralysis on one side of the face.

RELATED: I ended up in the cardiac ICU. It was a rare complication of Lyme disease.

How to prevent Lyme disease

The best strategy for preventing Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites altogether. Before you go out, use an EPA-registered insect repellant and treat clothing and gear with permethrin. Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck pants into socks. Avoid wooded areas with tall grass, walk in the center of trails, and when you return, shower immediately and wash your clothes on high heat.

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