According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 476,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year. However, the actual number could be a lot higher due to misdiagnosis and undocumented cases. Lyme disease can be dangerous for people who don’t seek prompt treatment because of the way the borrelia bacteria camps out within the body, causing issues for weeks, months, or even years after the initial infection.
Because the number of cases is so high and the symptoms and health consequences of a Lyme disease infection are so detrimental, the best course of action is to prevent the contraction of the disease. But prevention techniques such as wearing loose-fitting clothing and checking for ticks after being outdoors may not be enough. So, what else can medical professionals do to help prevent the spread of Lyme disease in America? One approach that shows promise is a Lyme disease antibody shot.
Is there a vaccine for Lyme disease in 2021?
With over 50% of Americans living in an area where Lyme-infected ticks are found, it seems as though Lyme disease would have more attention in the way of vaccine production. However, as it stands, there is no vaccine to protect people against Lyme disease. This is not for a lack of trying on the part of medical researchers, as they have been working for decades to try to slow the spread and develop something that can protect people against Lyme.
In 1998, a Lyme disease vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Unfortunately, the availability of the vaccine didn’t last long, and just three years later, it was pulled from the market. Although there are still vaccines available to protect animals against Lyme disease, there are none for humans, though many medical researchers are still working tirelessly to create a new one.
Why was the Lyme vaccine discontinued?
The approved Lyme vaccine, known as LYMERix®, was met with a lot of controversy when it was first developed. Part of this controversy was due to some medical professionals’ refusal to see Lyme disease as a serious condition. The need for a vaccine was dismissed by these doctors because they didn’t believe it was possible for the bacteria to remain within the body in places such as the ligaments, tissues, tendons, bones, brain, and eyes.
When people were told that Lyme disease wasn’t serious enough to require a vaccine, it led to low consumer demand. Since the vaccine wasn’t being purchased, the company that created it decided to discontinue it. The vaccine also came with various side effects that many couldn’t get on board with, which contributed further to its discontinuation – and to a lack of Lyme disease protection for people across the country.
What does it mean to test positive for Lyme antibodies?
When bacteria, viruses, or any other foreign pathogen make their way into the body, the immune system reacts. This reaction is initiated by the foreign pathogen, known as an antigen. When the immune system comes into contact with the antigen, it begins to create other cells that can help fight off the infection. Antibodies, specifically, are created by white blood cells known as B lymphocytes. Antibodies are tasked with destroying antigens or foreign pathogens, or blocking them from spreading the infection further into other cells.
How long do antibodies last for Lyme disease?
If a person tests positive for Lyme antibodies, that means that at some point, the borrelia bacteria has made its way into their system and set off the immune reaction that created borrelia-specific antibodies. It typically takes up to two months for antibodies to be present in the bloodstream, so it can be hard to diagnose an active infection using an antibody test. Once the antibodies are created for Lyme disease, they tend to stick around for many years following successful treatment of the active infection.
What is the new Lyme disease antibody shot?
Infectious diseases physician scientist Mark Klempner and his colleagues have been working towards developing a yearly injection that can help protect people against Lyme disease. This shot is known as Lyme PrEP, and is designed to deliver a single Lyme disease antibody into a person’s system. The shot would be taken annually prior to tick season and would likely protect people from a Lyme infection because it introduces antibodies designed to fight Lyme into the body before the bacteria even has a chance to enter the blood.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved human clinical trials for the new Lyme disease antibody shot in February 2021. The study, which has given all its volunteers their shot already, is ongoing. The main goal of the phase 1 clinical trial is to determine the safety of the shot and how well it can protect against Lyme disease. According to preliminary results, the shot is safe and effective for the entire nine-month tick season.
Considering the sheer number of people who get Lyme disease each year and the effects that the infection has on the body, the opportunity for an antibody shot to become available to the masses is a promising look towards the future of beating the Lyme disease epidemic.
Featured image by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash