A new use of biotechnology could cut cases of Lyme disease by reducing infections in a key reservoir host of the disease. Field trials and laboratory tests carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have confirmed that a new biotechnology is able to prevent the transmission of Lyme disease by vaccinating white-footed mice.
The mice are lured into ingesting a vaccine against Lyme disease bacteria through use of an oral bait vaccine. This vaccine then prompts the mice to create antibodies against Lyme disease bacteria and can help reduce the number of ticks becoming infected by feeding on mice carrying the spirochaetes.
Attacking the Root of Infection
Instead of targeting humans by producing a new Lyme disease vaccine to replace the one removed from the market in 2003, the researchers have cut out the risk of consumer fear and gone straight for the main vector of the disease in the US. Vaccinating the mice resulted in the death of bacteria in mice already infected with Borrelia burgdorferi and stopped them from spreading the bacteria to ticks that could then go on to bite humans and other animals like dogs, cats, and horses.
76% Reduction in Lyme Disease Bacteria
The research was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, and the technology is being marketed by US BIOLOGIC now that field trials have been successful. The trials were carried out over a five-year period in test and control fields in New York.
What they found was that in areas where the oral bait vaccine was employed there was a 23% reduction in the rate of tick infection after the first year. By the fifth year, there was a 76% reduction in the tick infection rate, which presumably would dramatically reduce the risk of humans in these areas developing Lyme disease after a tick bite.
The authors of the paper concluded “Strategic implementation of the intervention reported in this study would ultimately protect human populations from contracting B. burgdorferi in geographic regions where Lyme disease risk is high.” By tying our fate to that of animals like white-footed mice we could make Lyme disease very rare indeed, instead of consistently seeing higher rates of infections across the US.
Other Applications for Oral Bait Vaccine for Lyme Disease
Excitingly, the biotechnology represents a method by which other diseases may also be controlled. By breaking the transmission cycle of a disease like Lyme, oral bait vaccines could address other zoonotic diseases like Rickettsia, Babesia, and even West Nile Virus. Zoonotic diseases account for some 75% of emerging infectious diseases, making the success of these trials even more significant.
US BIOLOGIC has applied for USDA licensure of this oral bait vaccine to control Lyme disease bacterial infection in white-footed mice.
Meirelles Richer L, Brisson D, Melo R, Ostfeld RS, Zeidner NS, Gomes-Solecki M. Reservoir Targeted Vaccine Against Borrelia burgdorferi: A New Strategy to Prevent Lyme Disease Transmission. J Infect Dis. 2014 Feb 12.