Under-Reporting of Lyme & TBD in Rappahannock Cty, VA

State of VirginiaRappahannock News published an article by Ike Parrish – for Foothills Forum on November 20, 2022, “Lyme disease is on the rise in Rappahannock. The pandemic obscured by how much.” In the past five years, Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District Epidemiologist, Daniel Ferrel, has seen a rise in cases of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis in his Virginia district which covers Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison and Orange Counties. However, local residents and experts believe case numbers of tick-borne diseases have been vastly under-reported in Virginia.

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) strict guidelines on case confirmation, and the frequent misdiagnosis of Lyme and tick-borne diseases as other illnesses, is causing a skewed perception of a health issue that is endemic in Virginia. “Ferrell and other observers say case numbers are a vast misrepresentation of the magnitude of diseases caused by ticks.” The COVID pandemic worsened the issue, as it garnered epidemiologists’ focus. “… A lot of tick-borne disease cases probably went unreported,” said Dr. David Gaines, Public Health Entomologist for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Before COVID, Lyme disease was one of the number one tested conditions in Ferrell’s district. But as the pandemic wanes, “The numbers will start to increase again,” says Ferrell.

Dr. John McCue who practices in Washington, Virginia, stated that health insurance claims provide a more accurate figure for Lyme disease. The CDC reports more than 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease each year nationwide, but insurance claims suggest that each year approximately 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease.

A rise in tick-borne diseases in Rappahannock can’t be confirmed by the numbers, but it seems tick-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent. Many residents are also concerned with the rise of Alpha-gal Syndrome, another tick-borne illness, creating a red meat allergy. Awareness, prevention, and a new tick ID program by VDH are necessary tools to combat the rise in tick-borne diseases.

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