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New tool emerging in fight against Lyme disease

Carol Thompson, The Detroit News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Fikrig and a group of university researchers from the East Coast tested the vaccine in guinea pigs and reported their findings in a November issue of Science Translational Medicine, which publishes original, peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Guinea pigs that were vaccinated in the study developed redness and irritation as early as 18 hours after they had been bit. Ticks also fed poorly and for less time on the guinea pigs that had been vaccinated, sometimes dying or detaching on their own after 48 hours.

"So far I'm cautiously optimistic" about the vaccine someday being available for humans, Fikrig said. "From what we've seen in the guinea pigs, the results are quite promising."

A Lyme disease vaccine is under development by Valneva and Pfizer. It is in human clinical trials.

As the researchers continue their experiments, the ticks are marching on.

Approximately 35,000 Lyme disease cases are reported annually in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the CDC said that figure is likely an undercount, since it relies on doctors actively reporting cases. The CDC estimates 476,000 Americans are treated for Lyme every year, a figure that may be inflated by patients who are treated for Lyme without actually being infected.

 

In 2020, 305 cases of Lyme were reported to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, mostly in the state's western counties. That is up from 66 cases reported in 2011.

Black-legged ticks are increasingly widespread through Michigan, MSU's Tsao said. There was very little risk of encountering a Lyme-carrying tick when she moved to the state in 2003. Now, the potential to catch Lyme exists in almost every county. Where the ticks spread, the disease usually is not far behind.

"By 2010, 2015, they were starting to come across the southern counties of the Lower Peninsula," she said. "If you talk to people in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, they would say that probably about three to four years ago they started seeing more ticks."

Michigan doctors increasingly encounter Lyme disease in their patients, said Dr. Leonard Johnson, chief of infectious disease at Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit.

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