Though there are more than 30,000 reported cases of Lyme disease annually, new data from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that the infection is more than 10 times as common as previously reported.
The CDC's new report is based on insurance information for nearly 22 million Americans, surveys on clinical laboratories and a national patient survey. The information was released Sunday at the International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the U.S. The new data estimates the infection rate is more in line with studies published two decades ago that suggest the true number of cases is between 3 to 12-fold higher than the reported figure.
"We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater," Paul Mead, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for the CDC's Lyme disease program, said in a press release.
In order to prevent Lyme disease, the CDC recommends wearing repellent, checking for ticks daily and showering immediately after being outdoors.
"Although these measures are effective, they aren't fail-proof and people don't always use them. We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem," said Lyle Peterson, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, in a press release.
According to the release, the CDC's approach to lowering the infection rate would involve homeowners killing ticks in their own yards, and communities as a whole combating tick carriers such as deer and rodents.
Lyme disease is transmitted through infected tick bites. It does not affect Americans nationwide and is mostly based in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
In 2011, 96 percent of Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC came from 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Lyme disease symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, chills, muscle and joint aches and a red, expanding rash called erythema migrans.
For removing a tick, the CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin steadily pulling upward with steady, even pressure, and thoroughly cleaning the bite area with rubbing alcohol, iodine scrub or soap and water. Jerking the tick around can cause the mouth to break off and remain in the skin.