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Why is CDC concerned about Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection spread by the bite of ticks that causes more than 300,000 illnesses each year in the United States. It is the most commonly occurring vector-borne disease and the sixth most commonly reported notifiable infectious disease.

Why improved prevention methods are needed

Graph showing Annual Reported Cases of Lyme Disease from 1992-2015

The number of cases of Lyme disease reported to CDC has increased steadily over the past 25 years. Improved prevention methods against Lyme disease are one of CDC’s key priorities

Expanding distribution of Lyme disease cases over time

What is CDC doing about Lyme disease?

Leading in Prevention

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tickborne infection in the United States. CDC has a long-standing commitment to preventing Lyme disease and is on the forefront of Lyme disease prevention and control research. CDC scientists (entomologists, ecologists, and epidemiologists) have been working together to understand the complicated interactions between ticks, small mammals, deer, and people to help fight this illness. They have worked to find easy, effective, and affordable means for people to fight this illness.

Developing better insect repellents

CDC researchers have discovered that a naturally occurring compound called nootkatone, found in grapefruit, Alaska yellow cedar trees, and some herbs, can kill or repel ticks and insects. CDC is working with an exclusively licensed partner to evaluate and develop next-generation pest prevention and control products.

Evaluating permethrin-treated clothing

CDC and university partners are currently evaluating the effectiveness of permethrin-treated clothing as a way to prevent tick bites. Results from a pilot study are now available; additional studies are ongoing.

Reducing ticks around homes

CDC and its collaborators have pioneered research in the use of rodent-targeted treatments, including bait boxes. These devices treat mice and other rodents for ticks, in an effort to upset the transmission cycle of Lyme disease. In a 2-year study of 625 homes in Connecticut, scientists examined whether bait boxes, a rodent-targeted method of tick control, reduce the number of tick bites and the incidence of Lyme and other tickborne diseases. Results are pending.

Discovering New Pathogens

Giemsa stained images of Borrelia mayonii spirochetes. Borrelia mayonii is a newly discovered cause of Lyme disease in the United States.

Recently discovered cause of Lyme disease in the Upper Midwest, Borrelia mayonii.

Exploring rodent-targeted vaccines

Funding from CDC has enabled researchers to develop an oral vaccine for rodents that can reduce the transmission of Lyme disease in nature. Evaluation of this product is ongoing.

Leading in Surveillance

Calculating the true cost of Lyme disease

CDC research led to the estimate that over 300,000 people are likely diagnosed and treated each year in the United States. Additional research by CDC scientists is ongoing to determine the economic burden of Lyme disease. CDC research also indicates that the total cost of Lyme disease testing alone is estimated at $492 million.

Discovering new tickborne diseases

CDC is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Health, Mayo Clinic, Tennessee Department of Health, and Vanderbilt University to obtain up to 30,000 clinical specimens from patients with suspected tickborne illness over a 3-year period. CDC will use advanced molecular detection (AMD) methods to identify tickborne bacteria that may be the cause of these patients’ illnesses. Already, investigators have used AMD to sequence the full genome of a newly discovered bacteria, Borrelia mayonii, which is another cause of Lyme disease in upper Midwestern states.

Improving Early and Accurate Diagnosis

CDC scientists, in collaboration with researchers from Colorado State University are working to develop a new type of test to help healthcare providers diagnose early Lyme disease using an innovative approach called “metabolomics.” Metabolomics is a type of science that can be used to identify and measure types and amounts of chemicals the body produces during illness. Each type of infection or stage of infection has a different metabolic “fingerprint” that makes it unique. CDC is using metabolomics to help develop new testing methods for Lyme disease.

Early research has shown that metabolic profiling for early Lyme disease can be more sensitive than currently recommended two-tier serology, while retaining high specificity for distinguishing diseases that are not tickborne (syphilis, severe periodontitis, infectious mononucleosis, and fibromyalgia). New findings from this research could be used to distinguish between Lyme disease and Southern Tick-associated Rash Illness (STARI), a condition that occurs after a lone star tick bite but for which there is no known cause.

Working with Partners

Dragging for ticks in Minnesota

A woman dragging a net for ticks

Promoting collaboration through TickNET

CDC’s TickNET program was established by CDC in 2007 to bring together expertise from state public health partners, CDC, and research scientists. TickNET fosters coordinated surveillance, education, and research on the prevention of tickborne diseases. For more information, see TickNET—A collaborative public health approach to tickborne disease surveillance and research.

Funding state health departments to improve surveillance and prevention

CDC provides funds to state health departments for Lyme and tickborne disease surveillance through the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases (ELC) Cooperative Agreement. This money coupled with CDC’s subject matter expertise helps state public health departments strengthen their ability to detect, respond to, control, and prevent Lyme and other tickborne diseases.

Supporting vector-borne disease Centers of Excellence

CDC has awarded nearly $50 million to five universities to establish regional Centers of Excellence to help effectively address emerging vector-borne diseases in the United States. Scientists and public health experts at the Northeast and Midwest Regional Centers of Excellence will have a strong research component involving the surveillance and control of disease-carrying ticks.

Supporting large-scale prevention research

CDC is contributing both funding and technical expertise to The Tick Project, a 5-year study to determine whether neighborhood-based interventions can reduce cases of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in people. The study will determine whether two tick control methods, used separately or together, can reduce the number of cases of Lyme disease at the neighborhood level. This large-scale research will involve 24 neighborhoods and over 1,000 households.

Leading in Public Engagement

Educating healthcare providers

CDC provides many current resources for healthcare providers who wish to learn more about tickborne diseases, including continuing medical education and guidance in the diagnosis and treatment of tickborne diseases [PDF – 21 pages].

Educating the public

CDC has developed and distributed a variety of educational materials–ranging from trail signs to patient information sheets–that are free to download or order. CDC’s Lyme disease web site reaches over 7 million people annually and our distribution center has sent out over 30,000 trail signs, 350,000 brochures, and 400,000 prevention bookmarks in the last 5 years. Our annual HHS Special Webinars on Lyme and Tickborne Diseases in collaboration with Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have reached over 45,000 viewers since they began.