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Summer Is Here, Beware of Lyme Disease

Have you seen those icky little blood-suckers that are present on dogs and maybe in deer? Did you ever think that it was possible for them to cause you any harm. If so, you are absolutely right!

These tiny blood-suckers, or ticks, can carry parasites that can be transmitted to your body through a single bite. In most cases, this is transmitted via the bite of a hard-bodied tick of the Ixodes genus. This parasite is a bacterium of the Borrelia type that causes Lyme disease.

Seasonality of Lyme disease

Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi infection) is the most common vector- transmitted disease in the United States. The majority of human Lyme disease (LD) cases occur in the summer months, but the timing of the peak occurrence varies geographically and from year to year.

We calculated the beginning, peak, end, and duration of the main LD season in 12 highly endemic states from 1992 to 2007, and then examined the association between the timing of these seasonal variables and several meteorological variables. An earlier beginning to the LD season was positively associated with higher cumulative growing degree days through week 20, lower cumulative precipitation, a lower saturation deficit, and proximity to the Atlantic coast. The timing of the peak and duration of the LD season were also associated with cumulative growing degree days, saturation deficit, and cumulative precipitation, but no meteorological predictors adequately explained the timing of the end of the LD season.

Why is it difficult to diagnose Lyme disease?

The most common symptoms of this disease include redness and swelling of the bite point. This is common for almost all insect bites, and that makes it difficult to recognize Lyme disease in its early infection stage. Almost 50 percent of the infected people do not develop a rash at all. Other symptoms are usually fever, headache, and fatigue. These are the stellar symptoms for any infection, and no medical professional can determine the type and prognosis of a disease from these symptoms. This makes it necessary for patients to undergo serological tests.

A few tests that are almost never wrong

ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) is one of the more popular serological tests that can test patients for the presence of disease-specific antibodies or antigens (depending on the type of ELISA). This bacterium needs a highly selective medium and is not very easy to culture in vitro. This makes it important for multiple molecular tests to be run on the test sample(s). The diagnosis of this disease is further complicated by the multi-faceted appearance of the symptoms and nonspecific symptoms. Western blotting techniques and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques have been widely used this far to correctly diagnose the disease, even in asymptomatic parties.

Controlling number of mammals reduces exposure

The US government has reduced the deer population to a level of just 8 to 10 per square mile. This simply reduces the probability of coming in contact with a host who can transmit the disease. For example, the incidence of Lyme disease fell after deer eradication programs were implemented at Monhegan, Maine, and Mumford Cave, Connecticut.

If you have a farm or if you own a large number of dogs who can be hosts of Ixodes ticks, you should regularly take them in for veterinary checkups. You should also use insect repellents in the household and acaricides on your livestock to limit the number of ticks. This will reduce your risk of being exposed to the carriers.

What are scientists doing to protect you and your family?

Although there are a few preventive vaccines, they are very rare and their availability is limited. This is mainly because the cost of the development of the vaccine is quite high and very few common people can afford it. This vaccine is developed from the surface protein A of B. burgdorferi. It confers 76 percent protection from Lyme disease in adults, and 100 percent protection in children.

Isabella Rossellinee is a well-known science author, who takes deep interest in diagnostic methods of asymptomatic diseases.

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