Climate change could lead to explosion in new Lyme disease cases, study says

Researchers accept that warmer temperatures will mean better survival conditions for ticks, but for the first time, a study is quantifying the effect of climate change on the incidence of Lyme disease.

Substantially more Lyme disease is in places it hasn't been seen before. That is the forecast from a study called 'Ticking Bomb' on the effect of unchecked climate change and ticks.

"We thought we would find a 1, 2, 3 percent increase, which would be a small increase in the incidence," said study co-author Edson Severnini in a Skype call.

What authors found instead is an explosion in new Lyme cases with just a two-degree Celsius rise in temperature, up more than 20 percent in the 15 states where Lyme is currently most prevalent. One of them: Massachusetts.

"It's around 6,000 more cases per year than what we are observing now," said Severnini.

Doctor Nicholas LaCava treats Lyme disease patients in Cohasset.

"That's not a happy announcement. We're already having trouble dealing with the numbers of people that have been bitten and have tick-borne diseases," said LaCava.

He worries that more tick bites in the future will mean more cases of the misdiagnosed disease.

"Probably thousands or even millions of people in our population who have been diagnosed with something else, but actually have the tick-borne disease," said LaCava.

Of course, more Lyme disease in our future is not an absolute.

Severnini says there's always the possibility our government enacts a climate change policy to keep the temperatures from rising.