RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There are new details about just how widespread Lyme Disease is in the Commonwealth. The Centers for Disease Control just announced some 300,000 people have the disease nationwide. The Virginia Health Department also confirms a huge spike in the state.
Every time a Lyme Disease diagnosis is reported to the health department, add another 10 cases to that number. Officials say too often - the diagnoses aren't being reported, meaning the disease is much more common than you may realize.
The pesky problem may be with us to stay.
"We expect to see it continue to spread as long as the tick population is there that can carry it," says state epidemiologist Dr. David Trump.
He says cases in the Commonwealth have climbed significantly in just the past 10 years - jumping from 200 to 300 cases a decade ago to 1100 reported in 2012. Even that number isn't a true reflection of the illness.
"For every case that is reported to us, there are probably 10 other individuals out there that have that infection," Trump adds.
A number of factors contribute to the huge difference.
"Our system for getting disease reports though, we know doesn't capture every single case of Lyme Disease that occurs… There's no test, especially in the early phase of Lyme Disease that confirms diagnosis," he said.
That means it's up to a trained doctor's eye to confirm a person actually has the tick-borne disease.
Experts say if you're examining your skin and notice you have a tick, don't panic just get a pair of tweezers and carefully remove the insect without twisting or turning. If you do, you could mistakenly leave the tick's head inside your skin.
If not treated early, the effects can cause more issues down the road - far worse than the fever or body aches at the onset.
"If it's not caught in that early stage, it can go on to avoid joints, nerves, the heart and as that progresses it causes more problems for individuals and takes longer to treat and resolve," Dr. Trump says.
Health experts say now that the information is out there, you can do your part in preventing the spread. Wear long clothing if you're in the woods or grassy areas, don't forget the insect repellent - and most importantly - check yourself and your children for ticks if you've been in areas where they roam.
"Lyme Disease is becoming a common disease in Virginia," Trump assured.