Researchers in Midwest Discover New Bacteria that Causes Lyme Disease

Researchers in Midwest Discover New Bacteria that Causes Lyme Disease
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February 08, 2016

Health officials are announcing the discovery of another bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Prior to the discovery of Borrelia mayonii, Borrelia burgdorferi was believed to be the only species that caused the illness.

In a report published in Lancet Infection Diseases, scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota first suspected the possibility after lab tests from six people with suspected Lyme disease produced unusual results. The two bacteria are closely related and while symptoms slightly differ, the same treatment can be used.

So far, new Lyme species found only in upper Midwest. None of the other 25,000 blood samples tested from 43 states showed this strain, including those from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where Lyme disease is most common.

The CDC estimates that about 300,000 people are infected with the disease.

Like B. burgdorferi, B. mayonii causes fever, headache, rash, and neck pain in the early stages of infection (days after exposure) and arthritis in later stages of infection (weeks after exposure). But the new bacteria causes nausea and vomiting and diffuse rashes, rather than the infamous bull's eye rash associated with the older strain.

Both strains are caused by bites from an infected deer tick.

The newly recognized species was discovered when six of approximately 9,000 samples drawn from residents of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota with suspected Lyme disease between 2012 and 2014 were found to contain bacteria that were genetically distinct from B. burgdorferi. Scientists analyzed the DNA sequences of these bacteria and found that they belonged to a previously unrecognized Borrelia species. Blood from two of the patients was also tested by culture at CDC, whereby the organism is grown in the laboratory.

To reduce the risk of tick bites and tickborne diseases, CDC recommends that people:

  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter
  • Use insect repellent when outdoors
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks
  • Conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors
  • Examine gear and pets, as ticks can come into the home on these and later attach to people