Lyme Disease and the Vaccine No One Wanted (until now)

If you live in the Northeast, Lyme Disease is a hot topic right now.  We are seeing a lot and will be seeing more.

Lyme Disease, transmitted by deer ticks, is a difficult illness.  The ticks are tiny, and many who are bitten never even notice the tick attached to their body.  This is especially true for children.  Some people get infected and have no symptoms; some develop only a rash  which goes away (and nothing more), or one can develop more serious effects, from joint pain and swelling (especially in the knee) to neurological symptoms.   Treatment ranges from 2 weeks of an oral antibiotic (for the rash, called “erythema migrans”) to weeks of intravenous antibiotics (for brain and spinal fluid infection).  There is also a single-dose prophylactic treatment in those over 8 years old who get a suspicious tick bite to prevent symptoms from occurring.

Of course, it is much preferable to prevent tick bites in the first place.  This is done by using an effective insect repellent (preferably DEET-based) and by minimizing exposed skin (i.e. tucking pant legs into your socks, etc).  It is also highly recommended to do a daily “tick check” from head to toe after visiting risky areas to find and remove any ticks in the first 24 hours, before they have the chance to transmit disease.  (Also, see below on treating your clothes with permethrin).  But best of all would be a vaccine!!

I am asked almost every week in the summer why we don’t have a vaccine to prevent Lyme Disease.  Well, we did – it was called LYMErix, licensed in 1998.  Protection against Lyme Disease at around 80% after 3 doses was not 100%, but it was better than nothing (and was way better than current flu vaccine protection, for example).  But a vocal consumer group got a lot of press by touting a laundry list of supposed side effects and sales never took off.  Eventually the manufacturer (now known as Glaxo) took it off the market after only 3 years the because of such low sales that they were losing money on making it.  They have no plans to restart production, although Baxter Vaccines has a candidate vaccine they are considering enrolling in clinical trials.  Good luck with it!

Here’s a story from NPR on keeping deer ticks away with permethrin spray:

Dosing for Lyme vaccine: N/A (no longer on the market)

Author: marcgrella

Primary care pediatrician; vaccine advocate; hunger fighter; refugee supporter.

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