Lyme Disease

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.

To learn about risk factors for Lyme Disease and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the MedlinePlus Lyme Disease site.

Lyme Disease Bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi

Borrelia burgdorferi
 

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NIAID
Diagnosis

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.

Antibiotic Treatment for Early Lyme Disease

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.

Chronic Lyme Disease

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.

Co-Infection

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.

Vaccines

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.

For Researchers: 

Networks & Collaborations

The principal mission of NIAID is to study infectious diseases and host immune defense mechanisms. Therefore, the Institute conducts and supports most of the basic and clinical research on Lyme disease funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, because Lyme disease affects different tissue/organ systems of the body, it is also a matter of great concern to other NIH Institutes and Centers.