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‘New’ Borrelia Strain Undetected by Lyme Disease Tests

martha's vineyard tick disease borrelia miyamotoi lyme

Lyme disease prevention in action - a tick talk at a Martha's Vineyard school (video below).

Residents and visitors to Martha’s Vineyard should anticipate a difficult year after the discovery of a seemingly new strain of Borrelia in the area. Borrelia miyamotoi, a strain more commonly found in Russia and Asia, is not detectable using current testing and does not cause a rash like many cases of Lyme disease but infection with B. miyamotoi can create symptoms similar to Lyme disease, including fever, headache, muscle ache, and fatigue.

Is It Lyme?

The presence of this strain of Borrelia could explain some of the cases of presumed Lyme disease that have defied clinical diagnosis. Patients experiencing the symptoms of infection after a tick bite but for whom lab tests have repeatedly been returned as negative for Lyme disease, Borrelia miyamotoi could provide an answer. The hope is that a new test for this strain of the bacteria will be available by summer, usually prime tick season at the Vineyard.

Testing for the New Strain of Borrelia

B. miyamotoi usually presents as recurrent fever in patients, and the bacteria is thought to have actually been around in the US since the 1990s at least. This is based on the findings of a recent study from the Yale Schools of Public Health and Medicine, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study’s authors found the bacteria in samples from eighteen patients tested in southern New England and New York, with samples dating back two decades. Dr. Gerry Yukevich noted that it is likely Borrelia miyamotoi has been present on Martha’s Vineyard for many years and he suspects “we have been treating it as Lyme Disease or babesiosis. But it’s hard for me to comment on an illness I’m not sure I’ve ever seen.”

When B. Miyamotoi was Discovered

Deer tested in 2011 in southeastern Massachusetts were found to be infected with B. miyamotoi in 1-3% of cases but there was no clear evidence of the transmission of the bacteria to humans at that time. The strain of Borrelia was first catalogued in 1995 but it was only in 2011 that human infection was documented (in Russian patients).

Treating and Preventing B. Miyamotoi Infection

Fortunately, the treatment for the disease is the same as for Lyme disease; doxycycline and amoxicillin. However, the detection of this novel strain of bacteria is causing some to encourage greater action to prevent the spread of ticks, human exposure to them, and to improve tests for such infectious conditions. In the meantime, being bitten by a tick when holidaying at the Vineyard may not mean you get Lyme disease but could mean you get many of the symptoms without the recognition, courtesy of Borrelia miyamotoi. Those giving tick talks in schools at Martha’s Vineyard may wish to revise their material after this discovery of Borrelia miyamotoi.

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