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In wake of Lyme disease vaccine for people, mice may be next in line for shots

EAST LANSING, Mich. As Americans queue up anxiously for flu shots, new research proposes a different sort of mass vaccination program to combat Lyme disease a vaccine drive for mice.

A Michigan State University disease ecologist leads a novel ecological approach to battle Lyme disease. It proposes that ground zero is the forest floor, and immunizing the tiny critters there offers hope to ultimately reduce the number of dangerous tick bites that infect some 23,000 people in 2002 in the United States. The work is published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"There is more than one way to try to reduce Lyme disease risk besides relying just on developing vaccines for humans. We also should try ways to intervene in nature because we can potentially help more people by reducing the risk at its source," said Jean Tsao, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife, who designed the experiments to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccinating mice.

The research explores reducing the number of infected ticks that transmit the Lyme disease pathogen by vaccinating mice in the forest, thus placing fewer people at risk. The study also paints a more accurate and surprisingly complex picture of how Lyme disease is distributed in a forest, and how all forests are not the same.

"It shows us that with many emerging infectious diseases originating from animals, no one approach is likely to be a cure-all," Tsao said. "Diseases like this demand you think at the wildlife-community level, not just at the patient level."

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that multiples and incubates in the bodies of many animals found in the forest. Ticks suck blood from the infected animals, transforming themselves into Lyme delivery systems.

The tick's two-year life cycle allows it to feast first on small animals, such as mice, shrews and raccoons, and later on larger animals such as deer. Humans
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Contact: Jean Tsao
tsao@msu.edu
517-353-1737
Michigan State University
13-Dec-2004


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