A leading Lyme disease researcher says new breakthroughs in fighting the dreaded disease may mean there will be vaccine on the market within five years.
Benjamin Luft, a doctor specializing in infectious disease at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, says his team’s work, still to undergo clinical trials, focuses on a protein in the bacteria that causes Lyme. “It kills the organism while it is still in the tick,” says Luft.
Meanwhile, another Lyme vaccine known as VLA15 is being tested in Belgium and the United States. The FDA recently announced that vaccine is on the “fast track” for approval.
There’s good reason for the FDA to fast-track a Lyme vaccine: An estimated 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease across the U.S. every year. Carried by deer ticks, cases are clustered in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but the disease is spreading to parts of the Midwest, including Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Early-stage symptoms are typically — but not always — a bull's-eye rash in the area of the tick bite, fever and the kind of achiness brought on by flu. Later-stage Lyme can cause joint swelling, severe headaches, numbness, fatigue and heart palpitations.
Luft says those active outdoors should heed advice about preventing ticks by using insect repellant with 20 percent DEET, covering up arms, legs and head, and doing full body checks for ticks after being in wooded or grassy areas. “When people become retirees their lifestyle changes,” says Luft, "so we see more and more cases of people who’ve taken up gardening or golf, and all of a sudden they have a higher chance of getting Lyme.”