Aug. 25th, 2015 Melinda Wenner Moyer
The growing global battle against blood-sucking ticks
On a balmy day in late June, Scott Williams waits for a white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) to fall asleep. Williams, a wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, has just transferred the animal from a trap to a plastic bag containing a cotton ball doused in anaesthetic. As soon as the mouse’s breathing slows to one breath per second, Williams will take it out, draw blood, weigh it, put an ear tag on it for identification and check the animal for ticks, saving any that are engorged with blood. He must work quickly. The mouse will wake up in about two minutes, and she might be grumpy.
Williams is testing whether vaccinating mice against Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in the United States, can reduce the proportion of ticks that are infected. Health officials are looking on with interest. Connecticut has one of the highest rates of human Lyme disease in the country, and June is peak time for transmission. Borrelia burgdorferi infects an estimated 329,000 people in the United States each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. And although most people who get prompt treatment recover quickly — Williams has had Lyme three times — up to one in five develops long-term and potentially life-threatening symptoms, including heart, vision or memory problems, or debilitating joint pain.