Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the world. It is a tick-borne illness that afflicts around 60,000 people worldwide every year. Although the mortality rate is low, the diagnosis is complex as doctors must rely upon highly variable symptoms and indirect measures of infection when offering diagnoses. The most susceptible group are children between the age of 5 and 9.

Lyme Disease Rash Child

By Ltshears (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Three species of bacteria are known to cause the disease in Europe, but only one (Borrelia burgdorferi) lives in North America.  However, in the study of over 100,000 samples from American patients with the disease, researchers discovered six novel Borrelia species that may also be the new causative agent of Lyme disease.  Ticks collected from likely exposure sites also harbored this species.

There is still a lot of work to do to confirm that new Borrelia strains actually cause Lyme disease. For example, one of the options on how to prove that is to infect a mouse or rabbit with the bacterium and observe whether the animal develops Lyme-like symptoms. If the animal gets sick, being able to recover the suspected pathogen from the diseased animal would provide additional support for causality.

Surprisingly little is known about Borrelia bacteria. Therefore any new data regarding the underlying biology of Lyme disease would provide valuable information to microbiologists and physicians.


Jana Erjavec, PhD, BiSostemika LLC

Original article published by SITN