Professor Maria Diuk-Wasser’s eco-epidemiology lab studies how human activity affects tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease and babesiosis. Two latest papers from current and former members of the lab—considered one of which was just published, the opposite of which was just accepted for publication—offer latest details about how these diseases incubate and spread. Here, Diuk-Wasser discusses the papers’ findings and the way they modify our understanding of those diseases.
Prenatal mother-to-child transmission could also be driving an uptick in babesiosis (no less than in mice).
The lab’s first paper looks at two pathogens: Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme Disease, and Babesia microti, which causes babesiosis, a disease that has been on the rise within the northeastern U.S. lately. Each of those pathogens are transmitted by the identical black-legged tick they usually can infect the identical host.
The pathogen that causes babesiosis may be transmitted from mother to child, which shouldn’t be something that may occur with Lyme.
“One thing we found is that the transmission from mother to offspring is admittedly fundamental to babesiosis’s ability to spread,” Diuk-Wasser said. “These findings are necessary because though our study looks at mice, mother-to-prenatal child transmission of babesiosis has also been observed in humans.”
Mother-to-child transmission of babesiosis appears to be more chargeable for its spread than simultaneous infection with Lyme disease.
Diuk-Wasser’s lab initially got down to explore how the pathogens that cause Lyme and babesiosis interact: Are they helping or suppressing one another? Babesiosis doesn’t transmit as easily as Lyme, but it surely has been on the rise, so their hypothesis was that the pathogen that causes Lyme is enhancing or facilitating the emergence of babesiosis.
“I used to be surprised to see how far more necessary the transmission from mother to child [among mice] was than co-infection with Lyme, which was what our initial hypothesis was focused on,” Diuk-Wasser said.
The paper uses field data collected on Block Island, in Rhode Island, together with lab data, to create a mathematical model that estimates the capability of the pathogen that causes babesiosis to spread.
Climate change could also be partly chargeable for the rise of babesiosis.
Up to now, within the northeastern U.S., many wild outdoor mice would die over the winter, whereas ticks would live and pass down a pathogen. But, Diuk-Wasser said, “we predict that more mice are surviving the winters now, and incubating Babesia over the winter, and that’s a secondary factor that’s driving transmission.”
Different strains of Lyme disease flourish in several host animals, which could also be why so many strains thrive.
There are all the time many strains of Lyme within the environment, a few of which make people more sick than others. One query for researchers is why Lyme doesn’t behave like other diseases, reminiscent of COVID-19, where one strain tends to take over, replicate, and cause the overwhelming majority of infections.
Of their second paper, Diuk-Wasser’s lab got down to explore the concept that some Lyme strains could be higher adapted to some animals than others. What they found is that certain strains of the pathogen that causes Lyme are far more common in birds and others are far more common in mice, which explains no less than partially why you see all of them being maintained in nature.
Birds are more necessary to the spread of Lyme disease than previously known.
“We thought initially that the variants of Lyme that cause probably the most severe disease in humans are those that mice carry, but this study showed that it’s actually more of a mixture,” Diuk-Wasser said. “Birds also incubate some strains which are dangerous to humans. That indicates that birds are more necessary to Lyme disease’s spread than we had thought.”
The proven fact that there are multiple (greater than 15) strains concurrently circulating at anyone time allows us to get Lyme disease repeatedly, even in the identical season. “It’s not like COVID-19, where a single dominant strain circulates, then one other one circulates many months later,” Diuk-Wasser said. Because so many strains are circulating, and since animals are likely to be carrying multiple strains directly, herd immunity isn’t reached, either in human or animal populations.