Monday, May 20, 2013

Lyme disease on the rise in the Pacific Northwest

Reported cases of Lyme disease are on the rise in Oregon and Washington state according to the International Society for Infectious Diseases. This increase in prevalence suggests expansion and emergence of the disease in new geographic areas. This could also be due to increased Lyme awareness in these regions and more testing and resulting diagnoses. In any case, Lyme appears to be showing up in unexpected places and cases continue to show an upward trend.

Feral cats: ruthless killers or man's best friend?

Man's new best friend?
A study in the journal Nature Communications finds that feral cats are killing billions of animals in the United States each year. The authors lament the impact this indiscriminate killing has on biodiversity, yet neglect to address the potential benefit that this may have on disease prevention.

Rodents act as a natural reservoir for many zoonotic diseases, including Lyme, and reductions in their populations due to feral cat predation may also reduce prevalence and transmission of disease. This "service" may be especially important given the loss of other meso-predators, like foxes, from many ecosystems.

While their impact on biodiversity is certainly lamentable, and reintroduction of native predators a better solution to the problem, it is worth considering the broader impacts of feral cats in the species-poor, predator-free ecosystems that many have come to inhabit

Lyme positive ticks found in the Santa Monica Mountains

Recent testing of black-legged ticks collected in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties in southern California has yielded Lyme-positive results. Some of these represent identification of the bacteria in new geographic locations where it has not been found before. Whether this is due to expansion and an increase in the geographic range of the disease, or due to an increase in testing is difficult to determine.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And so it begins...

Sedgwick Reserve, Santa Barbara County, CA
Tick dragging at Coal Oil Point Reserve, Goleta, CA
While "dragging for ticks" today at Sedgwick Reserve (pictured above), I collected the first Ixodes pacificus ticks (the primary Lyme vector in the western US) of the season. The adults are just beginning to emerge and start "questing" for hosts (read a little more about the life cycle of ixodid, or "hard" ticks here). So the Lyme vector is certainly present in the central coast of California, as are hosts (there were plenty of deer, ground squirrels, and small rodents out and about at the reserve today as well). I will be excited to find out how abundant the ticks are and how prevalent the Lyme-causing bacteria is. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

New diagnostic test may hold promise for chronic Lyme disease

Boulder Diagnostics has announced the European launch of their new SpiroFind™ Lyme Disease Diagnostic Test. The test, offered by the company's clinical diagnostic service laboratory in Mellrichstadt, Germany, queries the exposure of the patients immune system to Borrelia organisms. These exposures are "stored" in the immune system for extended periods, potentially making this method well suited to identification of chronic Lyme disease infections. Additionally, Boulder Diagnostics claims the test can differentiate between active infections and past exposures as well as detect active Lyme Borreliosis through all stages of the disease.

A clinical study has confirmed the effectiveness of the test with the results submitted for publication in the peer-reviewed literature (so be watching for this to appear early next year for more detailed information). The results will also be presented at a conference in Berlin in April, 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Crowdfunding Campaign

Just another quick shout out about my crowdfunding campaign to support Lyme disease research. Thank you to everyone who has donated and spread the word! It means a lot to me and to the success of my upcoming research. If you are interested in contributing or know someone that might be, please pass the information along. Again, thank you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NPR story points to a growing problem

Here is a link to a story on NPR about Tom Mather, a researcher at the University of Rhode Island. His monitoring of black-legged tick populations in Rhode Island suggests that tick-borne diseases are a growing problem.

Mather states that "people really need to become tick literate." I couldn't agree more. Some of the posted comments about the story highlight this need for "tick literacy." There are a lot of studies out there, some better than others, and only a small subset get any coverage in popular media. This is unfortunate because it means that public understanding of ticks and tick-borne disease is based on outdated information or mis-information resulting from oversimplified or simply incorrect coverage in the media. Public discourse can become fixated on a single research finding that may be incomplete, poorly supported, or outdated.

The reality is that we don't know as much about ticks and tick-borne disease as we think we do. Scientific research is all about building evidence and a single study can never be definitive. So in addition to tick literacy, we need a better understanding of the scientific process and better communication between scientists and the media.