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 27,203 confirmed cases and 9,104 probable cases of Lyme disease to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013.
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 20 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 (Science 216: 1317, 1982). Since then, basic and clinical research efforts have been expanded in scope to address many different aspects of this infectious disease. Read more about how NIAID is addressing Lyme disease.
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.
For early Lyme disease, a short course of oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin, cures the majority of cases. In more complicated cases, Lyme disease can usually be successfully treated with three to four weeks of antibiotic therapy.
In patients who have non-specific symptoms after being treated for Lyme disease and who have no evidence of active infection (patients with PTLDS, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome), studies have shown that more antibiotic therapy is not helpful and can be dangerous.
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.
NIAID supports significant research efforts focused on human vaccination against Lyme disease. Ongoing research activities include multiple research projects in early-stage discovery and characterization of novel vaccine formulations and targets, including tick saliva-based approaches.
New Approach to Diagnosing Lyme Disease Shows Promise
In a recent study, a team of researchers explored the feasibility of using metabolic markers to diagnose early-stage Lyme disease.
Finding the Cause of Lyme Disease
Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, was first isolated in 1982 by Willy Burgdorfer, Ph.D., a zoologist and microbiologist at the NIAID Rocky Mountain Laboratories.
Current Efforts in Lyme Disease Research
The NIAID Lyme disease research portfolio includes a broad range of activities conducted by extramural and intramural investigators, spanning basic science through human clinical research studies designed to increase our understanding of this disease.