Plotting the End of Lyme Disease

via Tufts Now


For years, Tufts researchers have been on the cutting edge of investigating and treating the mysterious illness known as Lyme disease. Now, a new initiative seeks to eradicate the disease once and for all.

Internationally known Lyme researchers Sam Telford, a Cummings School professor, and Linden Hu, a professor at the School of Medicine, demonstrate how fabric flags are used to collect ticks for studies. Photo: Alonso Nichols


As people weary of being cooped up during a pandemic winter look forward to a summer outside, residents across the northeastern United States are once again confronted with a familiar virulent pathogen lurking in the woods and fields. Unlike coronavirus, however, this dangerous microorganism doesn’t float through the air—it enters the body through the bite of a tick.


Lyme disease has been a constant scourge since it was identified five decades ago on the Connecticut coastline, before spreading across the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (and its cousin Borrelia mayonii), the disease has long baffled scientists with its strangely stealthy manifestations.


While Lyme can sometimes be diagnosed early from its telltale bullseye-shaped rash, it often goes unnoticed for weeks in a person before it starts leading to complications including arthritis and—in severe cases—attacks on heart and brain tissue. While it can often be resolved with antibiotics, some 10 to 20 percent of patients see infections persist, with fatigue, joint pain, and mental impairment lasting months and even years. Sometimes doctors who treat such long-suffering patients aren’t even able to definitively pinpoint Lyme as the cause. All of those complications make the mission of the new Tufts Lyme Disease Initiative even bolder: “Eliminate Lyme Disease by 2030.”


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