Answer given by Ms Vassiliou on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware of the importance of Lyme-Borreliosis. As the Honourable Member says, it is currently classed as a rare disease. Rare diseases are life-threatening or chronically debilitating diseases which are of low prevalence. As a guide, the Commission uses a prevalence of less than five per 10 000 persons in Europe to describe diseases with a low prevalence. Lyme-Borreliosis, a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, has an estimated incidence of 1-70/20 000 in Europe. Like other diseases, the incidence varies substantially across Europe, and is higher in the regions with the highest infection rates in ticks, the disease vector. Although the geographical distribution has been increasing, higher incidence has traditionally been reported in Central Europe. The latest available figures indicated an incidence of 4.1 for the EU‑27 in 2005 (ranging from 206 cases per 100 000 inhabitants in Slovenia to four cases in the whole of Italy). The latest available figure for Germany (1999) was 1.7/100 000.
In relation to Lyme-Borreliosis being classified as a chronic disease, the term ‘chronic’ has been applied to different groups of patients. One usage refers to people with the symptoms of untreated and disseminated late-stage Lyme disease (manifestations developing months or even years after the tick bite can include joint, neurological and cutaneous manifestations: chronic Lyme arthritis, lymphocythoma, acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans, encephalomyelitis or chronic neuroborreliosis). The term has also been applied to people who had the disease in the past and some symptoms remained after treatment (fatigue, sleep disturbance and cognitive difficulties). The cause of these symptoms and the definition of appropriate treatment are disputed. A third and also controversial use of the term applies to patients with non-specific symptoms who show no evidence that they have been infected with Lyme disease. Thus, the characterisation of Lyme disease as chronic remains a matter of debate within the scientific community.
Taking into account the available evidence and consensus, the EC lists Lyme-Borreliosis as a rare disease. The related advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) for prevention of disease includes fighting the vector, taking protective measures against tick bites when visiting at-risk zones and rapid removal of ticks if bitten.