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Promising Tick Shot to Prevent Lyme Disease When Bitten

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Tick shot bites back.

Here’s the latest on a promising tick shot to prevent Lyme disease that could be our best hope for Lyme disease protection while gardening or roaming the great outdoors enjoying nature.

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What you may not know is that most cases of tick bites that lead to Lyme disease bacterium infection are not from the larger adults that are easy to see and identify; but rather, from the immature larval stage of development we commonly refer to as “seed” ticks.

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For anyone who has ever stepped across some brush or tall grass and discovered a shadowy cloud of seed ticks climbing up their pants legs, you know that you don’t have much time before that cloud disperses, sending potential disease to every nook, cranny, and cleft that ticks find so inviting and hard for us to see, let alone reach. And time is an important factor.

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According to researcher Dr. Mark Klempner—an infectious diseases physician-scientist and Executive Vice Chancellor for MassBiologics, University of Massachusetts Medical School—in most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.

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Dr. Klempner recently posted in The Conversation an article about his novel approach for preventing Lyme disease: kill the bacterium when the tick draws first blood before the bacterium can enter your body.

Magic Bullet That Bites Back

His approach differs from the common immunotherapy approach where a vaccine containing non-infectious bits from the disease-causing agent is injected into the body to elicit the body’s immune response to create antibodies that will fight against a bacterial infection such as in Lyme disease.

In fact, such a vaccine has been created; however, it was later withdrawn due to limitations such as it may not have been conferring true immunity to last a patient’s lifetime; and, there were side effects that included arthritis.

Therefore, Dr. Klempner and his colleagues have been working on a novel therapeutic method where a potentially once-a-year prophylactic injection of a single anti-Lyme antibody known as Lyme PrEP can be injected into the bloodstream. This therapy does not trigger the patient’s own immune system to make many antibodies as vaccines do, but instead, bypasses the immune response and therefore is not considered a true vaccine. You can think of it as a magic bullet with the Lyme disease bacterium’s name on it.

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As this magic bullet floats around harmlessly through your blood after an injection, it does not do its job until a tick bites and begins to draw in blood containing the Lyme PrEP. The Lyme PrEP protein then kills the disease-causing bacterium residing in the tick’s gut before the bacterium has a chance to enter the body during the aforementioned 36 to 48-hour time period discussed earlier.

Thus far Dr. Klempner and his colleagues have tried this therapeutic on laboratory mice and have found that given at the right dose, the injected protein can protect up to 100% of those mice bitten by disease carrying ticks.

Tick Shot Might Be Available In The Near Future

The next steps in their research include Phase One clinical trials on volunteers who have not been previously exposed to Lyme disease, that will determine just how long a single injection can confer protection to a human and its level of safety.

Dr. Klempner concludes his article with the message that, “The COVID-19 pandemic has put in sharp focus the need to prevent infections and the old adage, ‘An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.’”

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If a once-a-year preventive injection were available that could protect you from Lyme disease, would you be willing to have the shot? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

References:

A Lyme disease vaccine doesn’t exist, but a yearly antibody shot shows promise at preventing infection” by Dr. Mark Klempner; The Conversation June 4, 2020.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis With OspA-Specific Human Monoclonal Antibodies Protects Mice Against Tick Transmission of Lyme Disease Spirochetes” Yang Wang et al. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 214, Issue 2, 15 July 2016, Pages 205–211.

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