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Lyme Disease Cases Have Spiked by 70 Percent—These Are the Warning Signs

Health officials say the uptick is due to a change in reporting requirements.

Spring is in sight, and most of us are eager to get back outdoors. But with increased time outside comes heightened concerns about tick-borne illness—namely Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne infection in the U.S. Fears aren't unwarranted either: In 2022, cases of Lyme disease spiked by roughly 70 percent, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2022, there were 62,551 cases reported to the CDC, compared with an average of 37,118 cases from 2017 through 2019.

While this figure may be disconcerting at first glance, health officials attribute the statistic to a change in reporting requirements, as opposed to a stark increase in new infections. The Nationally Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS)—the "passive reporting system" used to track Lyme disease information—changed in 2022, the CDC says. As opposed to requiring additional clinical data, a positive lab test is now the only thing needed to report a case (at least in "high incidence states" in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and upper-Midwest regions).

While actual reports went up, so did the estimation of how many people actually get Lyme disease, pet the CDC. In the past, it was estimated that about 300,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, but the most recent data from insurance records suggests that number is closer to 476,000. So, with these figures in mind, you'll want to pay attention to any potential Lyme disease symptoms, which generally show up in stages. Read on to find out what you should watch out for.

RELATED: Listeria Outbreak Has Hit 11 States—These Are the Warning Signs of Listeriosis.

A rash is typical in the first stage.

lyme disease rash
AnastasiaKopa / Shutterstock

Within three to 30 days after a tick bite, people with Lyme disease may develop an erythema migrans (EM) rash, per the CDC. The "classic" version often resembles a bull's eye or a target, but other rashes may appear or none at all. (A rash occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infections, the agency says.)

A rash will typically expand over several days, and can reach up to 12 inches in length. It may also be warm to the touch and can appear on any part of the body. It's typically not itchy or painful.

Beyond a rash, you might experience other symptoms at this stage of Lyme disease, including fever, headache, extreme tiredness, joint stiffness, muscle aches and pains, and swollen lymph nodes, per the Mayo Clinic.

RELATED: Salmonella Outbreak Spreading in 22 States—These Are the Symptoms.

Second-stage symptoms include neck and muscle pain, as well as face palsy.

A young woman checking her face in the mirror

The second stage of symptoms can appear as early as three weeks after a tick bite or closer to 10 weeks. This stage is "often more serious and widespread" and referred to as "early disseminated disease," the Mayo Clinic says.

Signs in stage two may include earlier symptoms, as well as additional rashes, neck pain or stiffness, muscle pain on either side of the face (face palsy), pain from the back and hips that spreads to the legs, pain or numbness in the hands and feet, painful swelling in eye tissues or the eyelid, and "immune system activity" prompting irregular heartbeats, eye pain, or vision loss, the medical center warns.

RELATED: Bella Hadid Reveals Chronic Lyme Symptoms—What You Need to Know.

Arthritis in the knees is the most common sign in the third stage.

knee pain or arthritis
Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock

The third stage of a Lyme disease infection is called "disseminated disease" and occurs two to 12 months after a tick bite, per the Mayo Clinic. The most common symptom at this point is arthritis, namely in "large joints" like the knees. This can persist for longer, while other symptoms may come and go.

See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

middle-aged woman talking to doctor
Lordn / Shutterstock

Health officials urge you to call your doctor if you develop these symptoms and also if you've been bitten by a tick. According to the Mayo Clinic, early detection and diagnosis of Lyme disease is crucial and can help improve outcomes.

As a note, it's common to develop a small bump or redness at the site of a tick bite immediately after, the CDC says. It may look like a mosquito bite and typically goes away within a couple of days.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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