UK Lyme Disease Cases ‘Three Times Higher Than Estimated’

Tim Locke

August 01, 2019

Current annual estimates of confirmed Lyme disease cases are between 2000 and 3000 in England and Wales, according to Public Health England.

However, research published in BMJ Open suggests the real figure for the tick-borne disease could be three times higher and may reach more than 8000 this year although an expert has urged caution, saying the findings could be an overestimation.

A second study published in the same journal supported targeted public health intervention at identified Lyme disease hotspots.

General Practice Data

The research team analysed anonymised data from Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) between 2001 and 2012. This covered around 8.4 million individuals from 658 general practices – around 8% of the UK population.

Lyme disease diagnoses were categorised as

  • Diagnosed clinically (1702, 42%)
  • Suspected and treated (1913, 47%)
  • Possible and treated (468, 11%)

Summers saw the highest number of Lyme disease cases and the largest amount were in Scotland. This was thought to be due to the popularity of hiking, and a rainier climate. The regions coming second and third for Lyme disease incidence were South Central England and South West England, but cases were seen in all areas.

CPRD recorded cases rose from 60 in 2001 to 595 in 2012, and a UK-wide estimate of 7738 for 2012.

Unsurprising Findings

“I wasn’t very surprised, because plenty of people have been suggesting that the incidence is higher than has been estimated,” one of the study authors, retired doctor Victoria Cairns from Oxford told Medscape News UK.

With some diseases, incidence can rise along with public and medical awareness of symptoms. However, “There’s more I think,” Dr Cairns said: “Every year there is more.”

The new research paper doesn’t speculate about the reasons for the growth in cases. “Other people have speculated that it’s climate change, Dr Cairns said. “There are all sorts of explanations. Partly, climate change is warmer. In some places, there are more deer so ticks are feeding off different animals, so that could be part of it.”

She has a personal interest in the subject: “I have had Lyme disease, quite a long time ago.”

She documented it – and post-Lyme disease symptoms – in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2005.


For more:  Warm winters are lethal to black legged ticks.

%d bloggers like this: