I hate to admit my growing distrust of any news related to Lyme disease that is released by any government approved agency. But in this case I am praying that this important information from the California Health Department Division of Communicable Disease Control is true.
An epidemiologist who used to work at the State’s Health Department, Robert Murray, reported that the percentage of infected deer ticks in high Lyme disease areas such as Connecticut is 30 to 60 percent. But the percentage of black-legged ticks — the closely related cousins that carry Lyme disease in California — is only 1 to 2 percent, and only as high as 6 percent in areas such as Mendocino county, where the most Lyme disease cases are found.
According to California’s recent data, in California, only about one in every 200,000 persons is infected with Lyme disease as compared to Connecticut – the epicenter of Lyme disease the rate is 100 times higher. Unofficially we can only guess, but the recorded numbers at the National Center for Disease Control are admittedly only 10% of the actual numbers. But still one would suspect that the differences would be uniformly off.
In 1998, Sabin Russell, a reporter for the San Fransisco Chronicle wrote a provocative article with what appears to be hard evidence as to why the rate of Lyme disease occurrence grows less rapidly in California, and not by just a little bit.
Additional lab tests showed that when infected nymphs fed on the lizards, and then metamorphosed into adult ticks, they were no longer infected.
Test tube experiments found that Lyme disease bacteria bathed in lizard’s blood died within one hour, while control samples grown in mouse blood lasted three days.
In another experiment, the researchers heated lizard blood to the boiling point, and found that it no longer killed the bacteria in a test tube. The sum of these tests points to what Lane calls a “spirochete-killing factor” that is probably a large protein.
“It’s an extremely important paper,” said Vicky Kramer, chief of the vector-borne disease section of the California Department of Health Services.
Researchers are now trying to determine the precise nature of the Lyme disease-killing protein, and perhaps find out if it can be used to create a treatment for the disease.
Today, a decade later, Robert Lane has earned his PhD, and is a professor at U.C. Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and supervises
several projects aimed at expanding our knowledge of the relationship of various isolates of LD spirochetes (and other emerging tick-borne disease agents in the bacterial genera (Anaplasma, Bartonella, Borrelia, and Ehrlichia) to their vectors and hosts.
Spirochetes isolated from ticks and wildlife are being characterized antigenically and genetically, and the infectivity of selected isolates for vertebrates and ticks evaluated.
The ability of human and nonhuman-biting ticks to acquire, maintain and transmit the LD spirochete, and the role of lizards, birds and mammals in perpetuating it have been and still are being assessed both experimentally and in the field. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute to the vector efficiency of different ticks and to the reservoir competence of mammals also are being studied.
Another current focus of Dr. Lane’s research program is to determine the factors that elevate the risk of human exposure to ticks in endemic areas of northern California, particularly in dense woodlands and mixed hardwood forests.
According to the University, these studies are being conducted in wild land and recreational areas, and in some domestic settings in both rural and semi-rural communities endemic for LD.
It is anticipated that these investigations will clarify various ecological and epidemiological factors that place humans at heightened risk of exposure to the LDS and other emerging tick-borne infections at different spatial scales, and enable us to develop predictive models to assess LD risk at both the county and state levels by means of remote sensing and ground-truthing ecological studies.
Dr. Lane explains the ultimate goal of this research to use the basic knowledge gleaned from the previous and ongoing projects to develop and implement strategies for reducing human exposure to tick-borne disease agents.
The frustrating part of all this research is the incredible length of time it takes to go from one theory to a finished product that can help us now.
The exciting part of Dr. Lane’s research is that his focus is centered on using several host-targeted methods for disseminating environmentally safe pesticides to rodent reservoir hosts (such as the lizard) of the LD spirochete that have already have been assessed.
Lets hope we don’t have to wait another decade for this brilliant scientist to deliver the goods from his promising research.