Vaccine could prevent Lyme disease to help thousands of Britons

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being tested and, if successful, could be available for use by 2025. A file photo is used above.

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being tested and, if successful, could be available for use by 2025.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, spread by ticks, that affects thousands of Britons every year.

There are about 1,000 laboratory-confirmed cases a year in England and Wales, although the UK Health Safety Agency estimates that the actual number of people affected is up to four times higher.

The disease is spread by infected Ixodes scapularis ticks which live in woodlands and pastures across the UK. They can attach to the skin and suck blood using barbed mouthparts. As they feed, they can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which then travel through the bloodstream.

Symptoms, which can appear within days or weeks, include a large bull’s-eye rash, usually at the site of the bite, although not everyone infected with the bacteria will see this telltale sign.

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being tested and, if successful, could be available for use by 2025. A file photo is used above.

The infection can also cause flu-like symptoms, paralysis of the facial muscles, and nerve pain.

And if it persists, it can lead to joint pain and swelling and other debilitating symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and inflammation of heart tissue.

Since the first confirmed case in the UK in the 1980s, the number of people infected has increased considerably.

Longer, hotter summers and milder winters, extending the breeding season for ticks and making it easier for them to survive, as well as greater awareness of Lyme disease, have been blamed for the increase.

Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are found throughout the UK, but hotspots include grasslands and woodlands in southern England and the Scottish Highlands.

“A vaccine would be good news for people at risk of contracting Lyme disease, especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors in environments where they are exposed to infected ticks,” says Stella Huyshe-Shires, president of the charity Lyme Disease Action.

About 6,000 adults and children aged five and over will participate in a clinical trial testing the VLA15 vaccine in the US and continental Europe.

The vaccine effectively trains the immune system to produce antibodies against the proteins found on the outer membranes of the Borrelia bacteria while it is still in the tick’s gut. The antibodies prevent the bacteria from leaving the tick.

Longer, hotter summers and milder winters, extending the breeding season for ticks and making it easier for them to survive, as well as greater awareness of Lyme disease, have been blamed for the increase.  A runner is seen above yesterday making his way through the dry grass in Blackheath, south-east London

Longer, hotter summers and milder winters, extending the breeding season for ticks and making it easier for them to survive, as well as greater awareness of Lyme disease, have been blamed for the increase. A runner is seen above yesterday making his way through the dry grass in Blackheath, south-east London

Previous preclinical studies have already shown that VLA15 elicits a strong immune response and is safe for humans.

Currently, treatment for the disease is a course of antibiotics, but it must be taken as soon as possible after infection to be effective and prevent long-term symptoms, says Dr Jon Oliver, a public health entomologist (meaning he studies insects) specializing in vector-borne diseases at the University of Minnesota.

But tick bites don’t cause pain and are often hidden (on the scalp or groin, for example), so treatment can be delayed.

“Most tick-borne bacterial diseases, such as Lyme disease, require a tick to feed on a human, attached to the skin, for at least 24 hours before transferring the bacterial disease,” he says.

“After 36 hours, the risk of transmission from an infected tick increases rapidly, and by 60 hours there is virtually a 100% chance of transmission, so prompt treatment is essential.”

Even then, in up to 20 percent of cases, antibiotics don’t work.

However, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in California have isolated an antibiotic, azlocillin, which has already been approved for use in the US, that completely kills the bacterium even though the treatment is not start up to three days after the initial infection.

But a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place would be a welcome step forward, says Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Antibiotic treatment is usually very good, but it needs to be given quickly to be fully effective, and untreated or partially treated Lyme disease can be debilitating,” adds Professor Whitworth.

Cosmetic treatment works just like the pill for depression

Injecting Botox into forehead wrinkles works just as well for depression as a widely prescribed drug, reports the journal Brain and Behavior.

Patients who received botulinum toxin injections experienced a nearly 30% reduction in their symptoms, compared to 24% in the group that received the antidepressant sertraline. They also had fewer side effects.

The effects are thought to be due to ‘facial feedback’ – the idea that a facial expression not only expresses an emotion, but that making that expression feeds back to the emotional side of the brain. Here, preventing brow furrowing blocks this negative feedback.

Tiny teeth-cleaning “robots” could one day replace toothbrushes and floss, reports the journal ACS Nano. The robots are formed from millions of iron oxide nanoparticles, each one too small to be seen with the naked eye. Once exposed to a magnetic field, the nanoparticles form into “trusses” that squeeze between the smaller gaps, scraping out harmful bacteria.

Air pollution is now linked to diabetes

Air pollution increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at the Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China.

They looked at global health trends over a 20-year period and found that toxins in the air, both indoors and outdoors, were linked to 290,000 deaths a year from this disease, which it is usually associated with a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

It is not clear how air pollution increases the risk of diabetes. But scientists, writing in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, said one possibility is that it triggers tissue inflammation, preventing insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels, from working properly.

Air pollution increases risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China

Air pollution increases risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China

Clothes call

How what you wear can affect your health. This week: Long sleeves may alter blood pressure results

Opt for short sleeves when taking your blood pressure test, as taking it with the sleeve up can cause a false reading, says Dr. Michael Bursztyn, a cardiologist at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel.

“When the sleeve is rolled up, it can put pressure on the brachial artery in the arm [the main blood supply] and alter blood pressure,” he says.

And unless you have an abnormally long arm, it suggests that it is not possible to place the cuff in the correct position at the midpoint of the arm with the sleeve up, which can also change the reading.

did you know

Some antibiotics such as metronidazole and tinidazole can react with alcohol in wine or spirits, leading to vomiting and headaches, says Simon Maxwell, professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh.

“This happens because these antibiotics prevent alcohol from being fully broken down in the body, leading to the build-up of acetaldehyde (a toxic byproduct), which causes flushing, dizziness, vomiting and headaches.”

in your dreams

surprising things down to genetics. This week: The gene that reduces your need for sleep

If you’re one of those people who can sleep four to six hours and still wake up feeling alert, you may have a genetic mutation known as DEC2, according to 2009 research from the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers found that mice engineered to have the same mutation seen in short sleepers were awake 8% longer than mice without the gene.

They also experienced 2% less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when we dream, and 6% less non-REM sleep (the most restful deep sleep) than the other mice over a 12-hour period.

DEC2 helps control levels of orexin, a hormone involved in wakefulness, the researchers said. The gene mutation appears to help release the brakes on orexin production.

Can heated nerves help ease the agony of post-op knee pain?

Freezing the nerves in the knee before joint replacement surgery can prevent months of pain afterward.

Up to 100,000 such operations are carried out in the UK each year due to attrition. But it can take several months for patients to recover from the pain.

In a trial of 120 patients at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in the US, half underwent cryoneurolysis, where a probe was inserted into the knee joint to freeze the nerves down to -20C before of the surgery. Freezing the nerves in this way blocks pain signals.

Results in the Journal of Arthroplasty showed that it reduced the amount of painkillers patients needed after surgery and led to better mobility.

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