It all starts with the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)—and not the tick. The mouse, which lives in forests and wetlands, harbors the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, and it’s the ticks that feed off the mouse that pass it on to people.
Scientists from the University of California at Irvine have sequenced the genome of the white-footed mouse, and this gives them the roadmap to start developing preventative programs, such as an environmentally-safe vaccination.
The researchers also want to understand why the mouse doesn’t get sick from the bacteria it carries (remember, no rats died that carried the bubonic plague) and this could provide clues about how people could combat the infection. In addition to Lyme bacteria, the mice also carry a form of viral encephalitis, and illnesses like malaria and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The research team is making the white-footed mouse’s genome sequence publicly available so other researchers can work with it.
The rate of Lyme disease increased 17 percent in the US in the year to 2017, with 42,743 cases being reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that cases have tripled since the late 1990s, partly down to the urbanization of rural areas and forests, and fears the actual increase is far greater, as most cases are either never diagnosed or reported. (Source: Science Advances, 2019; 5: eaaw6441)
Tick bite fever can be avoided by being careful in the bush and if you stop on a game drive for morning coffee and muffins, or for sun-downers with your G&T, check yourself carefully. It shouldn’t stop you enjoying the great outdoors, especially at Royal Jozini – we are Southern Africa’s best kept secret!