While living in Texas, we weren’t concerned about contracting Lyme disease. Now that we’re living in Connecticut though, we must check for ticks after working in the yard or going for a hike. Now there’s a new approach being tested that will prevent Lyme disease. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. It’s transmitted by the bite of the black-legged or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) and is responsible for spreading the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central United States.

Lyme disease is spread on the Pacific Coast by the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus).

Tick bites transmit the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi into the body. Ticks can attach themselves anywhere, and they can be hard to spot: They’re about the size of an apple seed. To transmit the bacteria to a human, the tick must remain in place for 36 to 48 hours, so spotting a tick early is important.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic red bullseye skin rash. It’s usually treatable with a few weeks of antibiotics.

If left untreated, the bacteria can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. This can result in more rashes, severe headaches, arthritis, heart palpitations, meningitis, temporary paralysis of one side of the face (Bell’s palsy), limb numbness or weakness, nerve pain and more. Most often, timely diagnosis and treatment resolve the disease, but some victims develop chronic Lyme disease.

So, finding something that could prevent Lyme disease would be an important development. A scientist named Mark Klempner has been working to find a cure for Lyme disease for a decade. He eventually found a protein on the surface of the bacteria called OspA and created antibodies for it.

Antibodies are proteins made by the body’s immune system that specifically recognize and bind to infecting microbes. Some antibodies call immune cells that can engulf and kill the bacteria. Other antibodies recruit proteins that can put holes in the bacteria to kill them.

After many tests and hundreds of different antibodies, he found four of these that could lead to killing of the bacteria. The team injected these antibodies into mice and found that they were protected against infection. They then made human versions of these antibodies to create a potential pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment of four antibodies that could kill the bacteria after a tick bite.

Once injected with PrEP, a person would be protected from Lyme disease infection. The bonus was when they found that PrEP isn’t only effective against Borrelia burgdorferi, but also Borrelia garinii and Borrelia afzelii, which cause Lyme disease in Europe and Asia.

The Lyme disease PrEP treatment is in Phase I clinical trials to make sure it’s safe. If successful, its efficacy will be determined in Phase II clinical trials. People living in areas with Lyme disease might only need an injection of PrEP once a year. We hope that this treatment prevents Lyme disease by blocking the infection altogether.

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professor emeritus Norbert Herzog, and professor David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.

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