New Tick-borne Illness found in New England States

Yale researchers from the schools of Public Health and Medicine have discovered the presence of a new tick-borne infection in the United States.

The New England Journal of Medicine published two reports on the new bacteria, Borrelia miyamotoi, one is a case report from Tufts University of an 80-year-old immunocompromsied woman with progressive decline in mental status, weight loss, wobbly gait, and difficulty in hearing. During the multitude of tests performed on her, doctors found spirochetes, a type of long, slender, and tightly coiled bacteria, in her cerebrospinal fluid. They believe that B. miyamotoi caused her infection.

The second report, by researchers from Yale, describes looking at serum samples of people living in Lyme disease-endemic areas. Subjects were divided into three groups: group one consisted of 584 health people living in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; group two, 277 people from southern New England suspected of having Lyme disease; and group three, 14 people who experienced summertime viral illnesses from southern New York. Researchers found evidence of B. miyamotoi infection (through the presence of antibodies to the bacteria) in each group. One percent of the 584 showed evidence of infection with B. miyamotoi, 3.2 percent of the 277, and 21 percent of the 14.

Some patients displayed evidence of recent infection and were treated successfully with the same antibiotics that treat Lyme disease, amoxicillin and doxycycline.

Because these are the first cases of human infection in the United States, no name has been given to the disease yet. The bacteria were discovered in Japan in 1995, and the first human cases infection were discovered in Russia in 2011.

Interestingly, as Durland Fish, PhD and senior author of the Yale report points out, this time the infectious agent was found before the disease was identified in humans. Normally, new diseases are discovered as the result of an epidemic. 

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