Mice fed vaccine in trial to reduce spread of Lyme disease

In a trial of a new technology for reducing Lyme disease, white-footed mice will be fed rolled oats treated with vaccine that prevents the spread of the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.

The trial will be conducted by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in the Fairfield County town of Redding, where other Lyme disease research projects are ongoing, Kirby Stafford, chief scientist and state entomologist at the experiment station, said Monday. The tests will use oral bait vaccine developed by U.S. Biologics Inc. of Memphis, Tenn. It targets white-footed mice because they are the main source of transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in ticks that bite them, and then bite humans. About 25 to 30 percent of blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, carry the Lyme disease bacteria, Stafford said.

"We'll be testing this in residential settings," he said.

A previous study in New York state tested the vaccine in wooded areas.

When mice eat the bait containing the vaccine, they develop antibodies to the bacteria and do not transmit it to the ticks. The field trials in New York showed a 23 percent reduction in the percentage of ticks infected with the bacteria after the first year of treatment, and a 76 percent reduction after five years. It is only effective against the Lyme disease bacteria, not other bacteria carried by ticks that cause diseases such as babesiosis, Stafford added.

The study will begin this year and conclude in 2017.

"We're trying to lower the risk," he said.

Stafford said that while the abundance of deer in an area are an important indicator of the size of the tick population, white-footed mice are also an important factor in transmission of the disease because they transmit the bacteria to the ticks. Deer serve as the reservoir of tick populations but do not carry the bacteria, Stafford said.

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States and a major public health concern, the experiment station said in a news release. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it affects more than 300,000 people in the United States each year and can cause severe damage to joints and the neurologic system. About three-quarters of the Lyme disease cases may be associated with tick bites acquired in activities around the home.

Personal protection measures and managing exposure to infected ticks through various tick management strategies remains the primary approach for reducing the risk of tick-borne disease, the experiment station said.

j.benson@theday.com

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