An analysis of Lyme disease cases in the UK suggests that the infection may be three times more common than the current annual estimate.
Researchers looked at a database of 8.4 million anonymised patient records, covering about 8 per cent of the population of the UK. Among these, 4083 cases of Lyme disease were detected between 2001 and 2012.
They saw a steep rise in cases during this time, from 60 in 2001 up to 595 in 2012. Extrapolating this to the wider population would suggest that there were more than 7700 cases of Lyme disease across the country in 2012, which is far higher than the usual estimate of 2000 to 3000 cases a year.
“This is really just showing there are many more cases than previously, officially estimated,” says Victoria Cairns, a retired medical statistician who worked on the study. “The issue is for the public to know about [Lyme disease] so that they go to the GP to get diagnosed.”
However, Sally Cutler, of the University of East London, said in a statement that the study’s methodology and its inclusion of patients who were only “suspected” and “possible” Lyme disease cases means that the numbers in the study “are likely to be an overestimation”.
Lyme disease has become the most common tick-borne infection in many parts of Europe and the US. The bacterial infection is spread to people via bites from infected ticks, and symptoms can include a circular red rash resembling a dartboard bullseye.
Journal reference: BMJ Open
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