Nothing can cramp a camping trip or hamstring a hike quite like the threat of a potentially debilitating disease brought on by a bite from a bug no bigger than the size of an apple seed. And it’s a reality that is only becoming more common.
Tick-borne illnesses are on the rise in the U.S., and cases of Lyme disease rank at the top of the list. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half a million Americans contract Lyme disease each year by way of the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick), whose population is thriving. If left untreated, the infection can become serious and spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.
Yet despite its growing prevalence, prevention strategies for Lyme disease remain thin. Some insect repellents can reduce the risk of getting bitten by a tick that carries the disease-causing bacteria; so can wearing long sleeves and long pants.
But soon there could be a new tool to keep Lyme disease at bay: a vaccine that can stop the infection before it takes hold. Pfizer and French company Valneva recently announced the launch of a phase 3 clinical trial to study the safety and effectiveness of their Lyme disease vaccine candidate in about 6,000 participants, young and old, after earlier studies yielded promising results. If all goes well in late-stage testing, the vaccine would be the first on the U.S. market in more than two decades, and the only one available for use.
An earlier vaccine, called LYMERix, was discontinued in 2002 by its manufacturer for “insufficient consumer demand.” But experts say demand may be back as case rates grow, especially among people who spend a lot of time outdoors in areas where Lyme disease is common.