Lyme Disease Hosting Not Limited to Mice: New Research

Mice are not the primary reservoir of Lyme Disease in the U.S. after all, according to new research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and slated for publication in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a prestigious biological research journal based in the U.K.  The research is noteworthy in that it focuses on Lyme Disease as an emerging zoonotic pathogen — one of 132 infectious diseases that cross between animal and human species, and pose an increasing threat to world health. 

The new research demonstrates that in addition to mice, chipmunks and two species of shrew have also accounted for major outbreaks of Lyme Disease.  White-footed mice appear to be responsible for only 25% of tick infections in the U.S. 

According to Penn biologists, ticks are a "middle man" in the spread of borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease.   The bacterium spreads from rodents to humans by way of tick bites.  Because nearly 90% of ticks that feed on infected mice routinely become infected, mice have widely been considered the primary reservoir of Lyme Disease.  Accordingly, public health strategies across the U.S. have historically consisted of attempts to interrupt the transmission of the bacterium between mice and ticks.  This latest research demonstrates that more than one dozen vertebrates are susceptible to becoming infected with Lyme Disease, any of which can be bitten by a tick — a tick which can then spread the disease to humans. 

Deer, though they play a minor role in spreading bacteria to feeding ticks, are a major cause of the elevated populations of ticks that are important in spreading the disease to humans. 

Previously on the DC Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:

  • Outdoor Lyme Disease precautions
  • A report suggesting that pandemic flu plans fail to account for children
  • Flu vaccine questions and answers from the CDC

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