Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by a bite from a tick. Ticks feeding on the blood of mice and deer are the most susceptible to become carriers of Borrelia burgdorfer, the bacteria that is the cause of Lyme disease. People suffering from Lyme disease may experience a host of symptoms such as joint pain, muscle weakness, disrupted concentration and thought processes, and obstruction of vision and hearing.
However, in recent studies, researchers have identified a new bacterial strain, Borrelia americana, a sister strain to B. burgdorfer that is also directly related to Lyme disease. Researchers found the tick carrying this new strain on a bird at a rehabilitation center near Metchosin, just off the coast of Vancouver, Canada. Once discovered, scientists tested the bird’s blood and found that the bird was infected with Lyme disease.
The most interesting fact about this discovery is that this was the first account ever of B. americana in Canada; this strain is usually found in California and the southern United States. This finding also suggests that Lyme disease bacteria and the ticks themselves have the ability to migrate more easily and can be transported by birds.
A 2014 map illustrated reported cases of Lyme Disease in the United States.
The medical implications for this disease are quite important since the spread of this bacterium can lead to the infection of humans. Although the ticks that researchers found on the bird don’t feed off human blood, a bird can also attract other parasites that come in close, if not direct, contact with humans. If this parasite gets a bit of the infected blood, they too become Lyme disease carriers. In the study, researchers explain the process of transmission for this particular case in greater detail.
Although the new finding of birds being carriers of Lyme disease can be scary, more research needs to be done before we go into a panic. For instance, even with this finding, there were 900 reported cases of Lyme disease in Canada for 2015 when, on average, there are 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year. The results of this study don’t necessarily point to a rising epidemic of Lyme disease but offer more of an explanation on how this disease can appear in other parts of the world.
This study just adds to the repertoire of knowledge that we have on the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and its transmission. This information makes doctors, patients, and scientists that much better equipped to fight against it.