Across the country, about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are documented every year, but there are as many as 300,000 cases annually that meet the definition of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If it’s detected and diagnosed, the disease can be easy to treat and track. “Public-health officials say that a few weeks of antibiotic treatment will almost always wipe out the infection, and that relapses are rare,” says one 2013 article in The New Yorker. But many cases of Lyme disease go unreported, and it can be tricky to diagnose and treat.

From the same article:

Most troubling, some patients who are treated continue to suffer from a variety of symptoms long after their therapy has ended. Nobody really knows why they fail to get better. Infectious-disease experts refer to the phenomenon, which can affect up to twenty per cent of patients, as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. Researchers have attempted to resolve the mystery in experiments with monkeys, mice, and dogs; human studies are also under way. As the number of infections grows, so does the number of people struggling to figure out what is wrong with them.

Historically, many people considered Lyme disease something that happens in the summer months in New England. But the tick-borne disease has cropped up in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

And it’s expensive. “In 2015, researchers from Johns Hopkins estimated that Lyme disease costs the U.S. health care system up to $1.3 billion a year,” according to The Tampa Bay Times.

What kind of research is available on Lyme disease? What are some ways to treat it? And why can it be so hard to detect in affected individuals?

Show produced by Denise Couture, text by Gabrielle Healy.

Guests

  • Dr. Brian Fallon Director, the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at the Columbia University Medical Center
  • Pamela Weintraub Health and psychology editor, Aeon, a website covering science, health, culture and "big ideas"; former senior editor, Discover Magazine; author of "Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic"; @pam3001
  • Michael Raupp Entomology professor, University of Maryland at College Park

Engorged and Unengorged Black-Legged Ticks

Engorged and unengorged black-legged ticks, courtesy of guest Michael Raupp. From left to right: engorged adult, unengorged nymph, unengorged nymph. (KATHRYN FINK)

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