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New tool emerging in fight against Lyme disease

Carol Thompson, The Detroit News on

Published in Health & Fitness

"It used to be rare that we would see it, and it was just in people who had traveled to those areas" where Lyme is common, such as the East Coast or the western Upper Peninsula, Johnson said. "But now we see it fairly frequently during the warm weather months."

It usually takes about 36 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme disease, he said.

People who contract the disease usually develop a bull's-eye-shaped rash around a tick bite. If it isn't treated with antibiotics within a few weeks, Johnson said Lyme can lead to long-term complications including chronic joint inflammation, cardiac disease and neurologic disorders. Those complications require more intensive treatment.

Johnson suggested people check their skin for ticks after spending time outdoors, particularly in wooded areas, and to look for the bull's-eye-shaped rashes.

Most of the patients Johnson treats for Lyme disease didn't know they had been bit by a tick. That's something the vaccine could change.

 

"It would allow you to get the tick off before the infection actually occurs," he said. "I think it could be a valuable tool."

The vaccine is still in the early stages of development. Fikrig estimated researchers are in the first year of vaccine development, typically a five- to 10-year process. Although the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines show the possibilities for a shorter time frame, he said.

"COVID has shown us something different," Fikrig said. "COVID vaccines came in about (a year), but perhaps that was an exception to the rule. It's hard to say yet. But perhaps the experience from COVID may make the development process faster in the future."

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