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Relative of bacteria that causes Lyme disease is “widespread” in New England

Thursday, March 24th 2022, 3:30 pm - The bacteria, only recently discovered to infect humans, is transmitted by the same deer ticks that can carry and transmit Lyme disease.

Borrelia miyamotoi, a relative of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, has been found in blood samples in New England, according to a new peer-reviewed study out of Yale School of Public Health.

The bacteria was only recently discovered to infect humans. It is transmitted by the same deer ticks that can carry and transmit Lyme disease.

In a statement, senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health and senior author of the paper, Dr. Peter Krause, M.D., said prior to the study the team assumed the bacteria would be locally confined.

“To our surprise, it was found at all our testing sites throughout New England," Dr. Krause said.

Krause and his colleague Durland Fish, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Epidemiology at Yale, were part of the team that discovered the bacteria could infect humans in 2011.

In his latest work, Dr. Krause and associates tested more than 1,100 blood samples gathered from various parts of New England in 2018, finding nearly 3 per cent presented an immune response to the bacteria. Some sites had a positivity rate as high as 5 per cent.

"These samples were so geographically dispersed in New England that the researchers were unable to determine whether the origin of the infection was southeastern New England, as is the case for Lyme disease and babesiosis, another tick-borne infection," the researchers said in a statement.

Around 10 per cent of the samples also showed evidence of Babesia microti infection, which causes human babesiosis, and is also transmitted by ticks. This disease can be transmitted at the same time as other tick-borne diseases, and co-infection is possible.

Lyme disease antibody responses were the most common, reaching as high as 15 per cent in some places. The authors say their findings suggest health care practitioners should keep a close eye on patients complaining of Lyme-disease-like symptoms.

“We’re talking about the possibility of tens of thousands of New England residents becoming infected with Borrelia miyamotoi based on what we found,” De. Krause said.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that this disease is out there.”

Dr. Krause says Borrelia miyamotoi is treatable with antibiotic treatments that are "essentially the same" as those used to treat Lyme disease.

Custom image by Cheryl Santa Maria. All graphical elements courtesy of Canva Pro.

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