Researchers Considering Vaccine as Lyme Disease Spreads

Finding a small tick on one's clothes or skin is a common occurrence in Minnesota. Typically, they're harmless and can be easily removed. However, some carry Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. Symptoms begin with mild fevers and tiredness, but left untreated, symptoms such as swollen jaws and facial palsy can occur. 

The number of Lyme disease cases has increased over the past two decades from roughly 300 cases in the mid-nineties to over 1,300 cases confirmed in 2016. This has prompted researchers to explore ways of taming the disease. The Minnesota Department of Health is currently working with the Centers for Disease Control to facilitate a survey to understand the public's views on a Lyme vaccine. 

However, health professionals aren't forgetting a previous Lyme disease vaccine that was on the market at the turn of the century. LYMErix was launched in 1998 but was canceled in 2002 over fears of the drug's side effects. 

"Since immune systems are designed to find anomalies and attack them, there’s a theoretical possibility that some people, because of their genetic makeup, could develop an unexpected, negative autoimmune response to something in a vaccine," said Benjamin Clarke, PhD and associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, in an interview with MinnPost.

Still, health professionals are hoping to learn from the LYMErix vaccine to potentially develop a safe vaccine to fight against the disease.

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