Lyme Disease: Prevention May Begin with Vaccinating Mice


Lyme Disease is on the rise in America.

What if we could vaccinate the white-footed mice that account for the majority of the transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi (the cause of Lyme disease) and significantly reduce the level of tick infection? The answer is absolutely yes, according to the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

An oral bait vaccine was distributed to white-footed mice. The mice created antibodies in response to the vaccine. When ticks later fed on the mice, the ingested antibodies killed the Borrelia and prevented the transmission of Lyme disease.

Along the same lines as this product, now being commercialized by Memphis-based US Biologic, the USDA National Wildlife Research Center has distributed an oral bait vaccine to wide areas of the eastern U.S. for over ten years to stop rabies, and it has been highly successful.

Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects over 300,000 people in the U.S. each year. Experts do concur those numbers are likely even higher since Lyme often goes undiagnosed. Lyme’s impact on individuals can be minimal and temporary (generally early treatment helps), or chronic and life altering. In some individuals when Lyme takes hold and weakens the immune system, then while the cause of death is not Lyme – it really is Lyme that led to an early death. Also, the CDC recently linked Lyme disease with several deaths due to cardiac disease caused (and death) by Borrelia, though no one knows for sure how common this is or why some individuals are affected this way.

The company plans to begin by vaccinating mice via pellets in targeted areas throughout the summer. In the study after a year, it was shown there was a drop of 23% of immature ticks (nymphs) that carried Lyme. After five years, the presence of Lyme dropped by 75%. The company believes with experience and addition strategies the presence of Lyme may drop even more, upwards of over 80%. Like eradicating Lyme (and other tick diseases) in dogs, an integrative method is suggested for people as well. And while this vaccination idea is a good one, and may be effective where the attacks are, killing enough mice quickly to matter seems unlikely. Meanwhile the instances of Lyme continue to rise.

For dogs, we can do more to prevent Lyme than in people. Prevention begins with a tick preventative recommended by your veterinarian. Simply going over-the-counter is not the answer. People choose products which may not work so well, or may not work best on the specific tick species for their area. Also, some products can cause problems when pets are taking certain medications.

Great testing is available  to determine if dogs have been exposed in the first place – and this is increasingly important. For starters, it’s definitely a total clue that human family members have likely been exposed.  It turns out many dogs (we don’t know how many) are walking around with Lyme. Dogs can wake up feeling awful, and may run a slight fever, and they have no way to tell us. Also, because symptoms are often so generalized, Lyme in dogs may easily be mistaken for a wide variety of illnesses. In most parts of the country, for dogs who spend any significant amount of time outside, a test for Lyme test should be standard of care (as it is for heartworm disease). Also, where Lyme is most active, many veterinarians now concur that a Lyme vaccine is a good idea.

And Lyme is increasingly active in more parts of America, even in big cities like New York, Chicago, and – of course – Boston (near the original “hotbed of Lyme”).