In August 2013, it was suggested that just one out of 10 cases of Lyme disease were reported nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 30,000 reported cases out of 300,000 actual cases, based on surveys, medical claims, and laboratory test results.
A year later, Lyme disease, like so many other diseases that do not immediately reveal their symptoms, continues to go under-reported by people, but the focus has also centered around dogs and how they are also easily susceptible to the disease. Researchers understand that for some people, Lyme disease symptoms may not be apparent until 20 years after they’ve been bitten by the Western black-legged tick (which transmits Lyme disease) — though this is not the case for our lovable canine companions.
Around 37.2% of homeowners have dogs, and if they are bitten by a tick who carries the bacteria for Lyme disease, owners will see their dog’s quality of life deteriorate much more quickly and significantly than they would see in humans.
Because it is generally thought that dogs get Lyme disease and people don’t, veterinarians are better at detecting the signs and symptoms of the disease more quickly that physicians. Around 80% of the total veterinary industry revenue is derived from providing care to dogs, cats, and other small animals, but they may be able to help humans as well. They have been warning us of the disease and the massive tick population boom for years.
If caught early enough, Lyme disease can be treated using a short course of antibiotics. However, if left undetected or untreated, the disease is much more difficult to treat and sometimes cannot be treated at all, leaving both humans and dogs with muscle and joint pain, neurological problems, and chronic fatigue.
When it comes to testing for the disease, things get complicated for humans; everyone has a different immune response. For dogs, the test is very sensitive and accurate as well as cheap. It is so cost effective that many veterinarians believe it should be a standard for all pets to get checked for the disease.
“We test on a yearly basis for Lyme disease, and a few other tick born diseases. This gives us a good chance to follow up with other blood-work to see if the Lyme disease is affecting the dog or not. Because of this, we can also let other owners in the area know if their animal is at risk for Lyme disease or not. This regular testing allows us to detect Lyme disease early on in order for us to get an early jump on treatment” said Dr Karen Kennedy, DDM at Guilford Jamestown Vetrinary Hospital.
Underreporting of the disease occurs because doctors may not know how to look for it in the first place. Other physicians may diagnose and treat Lyme disease, but do not report it to the CDC. Those who are bit may also just assume they are getting older, and aches and pains are a common sign of aging.
For humans, preventative measures may be the only type of treatment physicians can agree on until the CDC takes action and emphasizes a certain antibiotic patients should take during treatment. For our furry friends, the veterinary world is way ahead of the game; they have excellent products and even vaccines against the tiny tick. It is a bittersweet notion that humans can do more to prevent their pets from the disease than themselves.