Lyme Disease: The Threat Is Growing
The threat of Lyme disease is growing, not only in endemic regions but also in areas that historically have not been considered high risk.
According to a recent study from the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), not only is canine Borrelia burgdorferi infection increasing in prevalence in endemic Northeast regions of the United States, but it is also moving into parts of the country that historically have not been considered endemic areas.
“This expanding risk of Lyme disease demands heightened vigilance in protecting both our pets and our families from this devastating illness,” said study coauthor Michael Yabsley, MS, PhD, FRES, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia.
Expanding Lyme Disease Prevalence
For the study, CAPC investigators analyzed over 16 million Lyme disease test results from domestic dogs in the United States over a 5-year period from January 2012 to December 2016, aggregated by county and month. The results showed the regional rate of Lyme prevalence change during that time period was positive in all states that CAPC currently recognizes as having high human Lyme disease incidence, including Maine, Virginia, and the northern parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In addition to the growing prevalence of Lyme disease in these known endemic areas, regions in Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee also experienced an uncharacteristic increase in Lyme prevalence. According to investigators, this suggests that the risk to humans may also be increasing in these areas.
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“Because Lyme is a zoonotic disease affecting both humans and dogs, this study demonstrates not only an expanding regional risk for Lyme in dogs, but it should aid our understanding of Lyme risk changes for humans,” said study coauthor Christopher McMahan, an associate professor at Clemson University.
Year-Round Protection More Important Than Ever
CAPC hopes its study underscores the importance of year-round parasite prevention for companion animals. “I’ve been practicing for over 34 years in Nashville where many people don’t think Lyme disease is a concern,” said Craig Prior, BVSC, CVJ, past president of the CAPC board of directors. “But I’ve seen canine Lyme increasing in Tennessee for several years and regularly test and vaccinate for the disease. Ticks are everywhere, including in suburban and gated communities where deer, raccoons, opossums, birds, and other hosts frequent backyards. That’s why CAPC recommends year-round tick prevention for dogs—and cats—and regular screening to protect dogs from this debilitating disease that can be extremely hard to treat. By protecting your pet, you protect your family.”
In response to the growing prevalence of canine Lyme disease and its zoonotic implications, CAPC provides monthly forecasts for Lyme and other important tickborne diseases at petdiseasealerts.com as well as prevalence maps that are available at petsandparasites.org. With more than 21 million B burgdorferi antibody test results collected between 2012 and 2017 in dogs, these maps allow veterinarians, physicians, pet owners, and travelers to assess exposure risk across the United States and Canada.