Experts Discuss Research Into Lyme And Tick-Borne Diseases

Jul 6, 2018

With tick season upon us, there is a focus on outdoor prevention. But behind the scenes, scientists and doctors continue their work on treating and preventing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies recently co-hosted a panel discussion on the subject, where experts talked about the ongoing research.

Dr. Rick Ostfeld is a disease ecologist with the Millbrook-based Cary Institute. On the panel, he spoke about the Tick Project, a five-year study with Bard College that runs through 2021 and focuses on households throughout Dutchess County, with tick-killing interventions. As for other developments, Ostfeld says he is encouraged by some of the ongoing work.

“There are groups that are testing natural products for their efficacy and specificity for killing the Lyme disease spirochete in people,” says Ostfeld. “So there are groups, this is what Ken Liegner was referring to, where there are already licensed drugs that are antimicrobials that have never been tested against the Lyme disease spirochete, and now they’re being tested in a way that reveals that some of them might be very effective and could be developed into drugs that are more so than the doxycycline — the typical antibiotic that is prescribed when a doctor has a patient with Lyme.”

He refers to Dr. Kenneth Liegner, who also sat on the panel.

“I’m excited by some of the efforts to produce vaccines that are not only to Lyme, but one shot would convey immunity to multiple tick-borne pathogens because my concern, one of my concerns with the Lyme vaccine was that people would falsely think they were secure from tick-borne disease, but they’re only secure from Lyme. And they might not bother to do tick checks and use repellents and all that, and might get babesiosis or anaplasmosis at a higher rate,” Ostfeld says. “And that would be a sort of perverse outcome of getting a vaccine, but vaccines tailored to multiple diseases would be very useful.”

In April 2002, the first and only licensed vaccine against Lyme disease was pulled from the shelves. It had been developed by SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline). Now, there is a French company working on a vaccine. Rhinebeck resident Lawrence Miller attended the discussion. He finds the prospect of Lyme less scary with the ongoing research.

“And now to see that the studies are moving forward, and they’re getting more and more information, I think it’s reassuring.” Miller says.

Jill Auerbach, chair of the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association, attended the forum. She’s also coordinator for a coalition of scientists known as TRED, or Tick Research to Eliminate Diseases.

“I think that we’re getting so much movement now, acknowledging the chronicity of the Lyme spirochete and how it affects so many people and also the other tick-borne diseases, which are increasing like crazy,” says Auerbach. “In about 44 years now since the Lyme bacteria was discovered in Lyme, Connecticut, it was then a local area problem. And it’s now in more than 50 percent of the states in the United States.”

Again, Ostfeld.

“I think that if there were more money for tick-borne disease research, it would also attract more of the best and brightest younger scientists who have learned that there’s just not a lot, that there are other, HIV/AIDS, there are STDs, mosquito-borne disease, they’re all better funded,” says Ostfeld. “I’m not arguing that we should take resources away from those other very important diseases. I do not think that we should, but there are other ways of finding additional resources by cutting elsewhere in our federal, state and local budgets.”

Meantime, Democratic Assemblymember Didi Barrett, who co-hosted the forum at the Cary Institute, says the Assembly and Senate both passed legislation in June to require the installation of tick warning signs at more than 200 state-managed parks and campgrounds. Barrett sponsored the Assembly bill while Republican Sue Serino sponsored the bill in the Senate.