Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged deer tick. It is the most common tickborne infectious disease in the United States.
Why Is the Study of Lyme Disease a Priority for NIAID?
State health departments reported 42,743 confirmed or probable cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2017. Reported cases are not believed to reflect the actual incidence of Lyme disease, and CDC estimates that 300,000 cases likely occur annually. The incidence of Lyme disease, as with many other tick-borne diseases, has increased dramatically over the past 10 years.
How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?
NIAID has a long-standing commitment to conduct research on Lyme borreliosis, or Lyme disease, beginning more than 35 years ago when the cause of the disease was not yet known. In 1981, NIAID-funded research efforts resulted in identifying Borrelia burgdorferi, a spiral-shaped bacterium, or spirochete, as the causative agent of Lyme disease. Since then, basic and clinical research efforts have been expanded in scope to address many different aspects of this infectious disease. For more information, read how NIAID is addressing Lyme disease or see NIAID’s 2019 report, “Current Efforts in Lyme Disease Research”.
To learn about risk factors for Lyme Disease and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the MedlinePlus Lyme Disease site.
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NIAID is committed to improving Lyme disease diagnostics by supporting innovative research projects. Priorities include finding potential targets—substances that new diagnostic tools might measure in patient samples—and improving the sensitivity and specificity of currently available diagnostic tests, thereby leading to more accurate results.
Ticks can become infected with more than one disease-causing microbe (called co-infection). Co-infection may be a potential problem for humans, because the Ixodes ticks that transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium which causes Lyme disease, often carry and transmit other pathogens, as well. A single tick could make a person sick with any one—or several—diseases at the same time.