New Tick-Borne Disease Discovered

by lmatthews on September 28, 2011

durland fish lyme disease researcher

Durland Fish, PhD, who first identified B.miyamotoi in the US.

More than 25,000 people in the US get Lyme disease each year, but is a newly discovered tick-borne bacterium responsible for some of these cases? The official figures for Lyme disease incidence are considered a conservative estimate of the actual number of infections, with even the CDC admitting that many patients remain undiagnosed, and numerous cases go unreported. To add to the confusion surrounding Lyme disease, researchers at Yale University have released details of a bacterium related to Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, the disease-causing agent of Lyme in the US, with evidence that Borrelia miyamotoi was involved in nearly one-sixth of cases of suspected tick-borne infections in Russia.

Is the New Bacteria Responsible for Chronic Lyme?

Borrelia miyamotoi causes similar symptoms to those suffered by Lyme disease patients, including fever, and is, like Lyme, treatable with antibiotics. It is not thought that those with Chronic Lyme disease, or post-treatment lyme disease syndrome are suffering symptoms of B. miyamotoi as the infection presents with relapsing fever rather than chronic joint pain and fatigue. Since the revelations in Russia, the researchers at Yale Public School of Health have begun work to find out if any US patients have been infected with B. miyamotoi.


The spirochaetal bacterium is not new to the US, as it was previously found in Connecticut in 2001 by Professor Durland Fish, although there was no knowledge at the time as to whether humans were affected by the bacterium. Subsequently, B. miyamotoi have been found in all of the tick species that transmit Lyme disease bacteria in the US. Around 2% of so-called ‘deer’ ticks in the Northeast and Upper Midwest have been found to carry B. miyamotoi, with mice exposed to the infected ticks also becoming infected. As mice already act as a host reservoir for Lyme disease it is possible that they would also provide such a reservoir for the new bacterium.

deer tick

Around 2% of the 'deer ticks' in the US may carry the newly identified bacteria.


No Lyme Disease Rash with New Bacteria

Collaboration between Yale and the Russian medical team studying the effects of the bacterial infection means that symptoms of B. miyamotoi infection can be compared with those of B. burgdorferi infection, thus making it possible that Yale researchers can identify patients misdiagnosed with Lyme disease. Whilst Chronic Lyme disease may not be attributed to the bacterium, patients with negative results on Lyme disease tests but who experience similar symptoms (particularly episodes of fever), may have been infected with B. miyamotoi. The Russian researchers point out that the Lyme disease rash, erythema migrans, was not found to be a feature of infection with B. miyamotoi, which was first discovered in Japan in 1995 before Fish identified it in the US in 2001. More recent research has also uncovered a potential cause of symptoms similar to Lyme disease that is also caused by infection after a tick bite.

Further Research Finally Funded


Peter Krause, co-author of the paper published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, is a senior research scientist in the Division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at Yale and is well known in the field of Lyme disease research. Further research, to be carried out by Krause and Fish, has now been funded to determine the extent of any illness caused by B. miyamotoi in the US. Fish has apparently been asking for funding for just such research since his discovery in 2001, but without proof that the bacteria had an effect on humans he is reported as saying “It’s been like pulling teeth… Go ask the NIH why.”

The scientists have now received an NIH grant for fast-track development of a diagnostic test for the infection, which they estimate might be contracted by as many as 3,000 Americans each year. Meanwhile, patients diagnosed with Lyme disease might be reassured that the same antibiotics used to treat Borrelia burgdorferi infection also seem to eradicate infection with this newly identified tick-borne bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi.

Reference

Platonov AE, Karan LS, Kolyasnikova NM, Makhneva NA,Toporkova MG, Maleev VV, Fish D, Krause P, Humans infected with relapsing fever spirochete Borreliamiyamotoi, Russia. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011 Oct; [Epub ahead of print]


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