Lizards and Lyme Disease: What’s the Connection?

Lyme disease is a vector-borne disease spread through ticks. It is most common in the Northeast, North-Central, and mid-Atlantic portions of the country, but is notably absent in the Southeast. To explain this absence, researchers from Rutgers University conducted a study that was published in PLOS Biology that focused on an unlikely subject: lizards.

About the Study

We know that deer ticks are responsible for spreading Lyme disease in the Eastern half of the United States. We also know that they are found up and down the coast, all the way from Maine to Florida. So why are there so many more cases in the New England area when compared to the Southeastern portion of the country?

This study identifies a possible culprit: blue-tailed skinks. These lizards are commonly found throughout the region and do not provide a suitable host for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Therefore, when ticks bite them, they pass the bacteria on to a dead-end; the lizards cannot further spread the disease to humans. When comparing this to the Northeast, we see that ticks most commonly latch onto animals like mice, which can pass on the disease. Researchers believe that this difference could contribute to the lack of Lyme disease cases in the Southeast.

There is definitely more research that needs to be done on this subject. The microbiology of the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, interactions between lizards and mice and other species, and tick ecology all play their own roles and all must be investigated further.

About Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a vector-borne disease spread through ticks. These ticks spread the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. According to the CDC, there are 30,000 new cases reported annually. Symptoms of this disease come in stages, and they progress depending on how long one has been infected. Three to 30 days after infection, a rash will appear at the site of the bite. Symptoms that follow include fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, pain in the muscles and joints, and swollen lymph nodes. In the days or months following infection, symptoms will evolve into severe headaches, additional rashes, neck stiffness, facial palsy, severe swelling and pain in the joints, arthritis, dizziness, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, nerve pain, inflammation in the spinal cord and brain, shooting pains, numbness, tingling, and pain in the tendons, muscles, joints, and bones.

A diagnosis is obtained through the finding of characteristic symptoms, asking about exposure to ticks, ruling out other conditions, and various lab tests. A two-step blood test will be conducted in order to confirm a diagnosis. Rapid diagnosis is necessary for effective treatment. If it is caught during the early stages, antibiotics are a quick cure. People may also develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, which requires additional treatment. Preventing tick bites or removing them quickly is a good way to prevent Lyme disease as well.

Find the source article here.

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