Racial Disparities in Diagnosing and Treating Lyme Disease Navigating the diagnostic maze and finding care may be beyond the grasp of underrepresented populations.

By Melissa Wright

R acial disparities in healthcare. Health inequity. Social determinants of health. Socioeconomic status. Systemic discrimination. Representation. Equity and inclusion.

Melissa Potter, LymeDisease.org’s director of patient engagement and outreachTo some, these may seem like buzz words, perhaps repeated a lot in recent years. But for people of color, these terms signify that they may not be able to obtain essential medical care.

Although I don’t have Lyme disease myself, as a Black American female, I know firsthand about the barriers faced by people of color while seeking appropriate healthcare. We must advocate for ourselves in a space that often does not welcome people who look like us.

These problems become compounded when the disease itself is marginalized, like Lyme disease. Navigating the diagnostic maze and finding care may be beyond the grasp of underrepresented populations.

Racism and Health

In February 2022, the journal Health Affairs dedicated an entire issue to the topic of racism and health. As described in the article Systemic and Structural Racism: Definitions, Examples, Health Damages, and Approaches to Dismantling:

“Racism is not always conscious, explicit, or readily visible—often it is systemic and structural. Systemic and structural forms of racism are pervasively and deeply embedded in systems, laws, written or unwritten policies, and entrenched practices and beliefs that produce, condone, and perpetuate widespread unfair treatment and oppression of people of color, with adverse health consequences.”— (Braverman et al 2022)

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the gross health inequities experienced by people of color in the United States. Alarmingly, through most of the pandemic, infection rates and deaths of people of color have been much higher than those of their white counterparts.

Such healthcare disparities are not new, but COVID-19 has made them more visible. Such inequalities exist for many marginalized conditions, including Lyme disease.

For example, how are people of color represented in Lyme disease CDC surveillance statistics? A starting point might be to compare reported surveillance cases of Lyme disease by race with census population statistics.

At the outset, I should point out that it is not easy to find or digest surveillance data about the incidence of Lyme disease in people of color.

Distinctions Between “Race” and “Ethnicity”

Race and ethnicity are considered two separate and distinct concepts by the federal system. In the case of Lyme disease, race and ethnicity are contained in unrelated CDC reports that may not be easily combined…….Join or login below to continue reading.

You must be a LymeDisease.org member to access this content.

If you are already a member, log in below. Otherwise, become a member today to access the full content of this article and the full library of Lyme Times articles.
* Physician Directory Memberships do not have access to the Lyme Times.