Lyme disease identified in Bay Area ticks, and it isn't alone

February 26, 2014
Adult western black-legged ticks, which carry B. burgdorferi in California. Credit: Ervic Aquino

Finding evidence of Lyme disease in the San Francisco Bay Area didn't surprise a team of researchers, although it may be news to many doctors in the region. But identifying another tick-borne pathogen that causes relapsing fever was unexpected and may deserve a closer look.

"There's conflict about whether the pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterial agent of Lyme disease) even exists in these spots," said Nathan Nieto, assistant professor of microbiology at Northern Arizona University. As a result, he said, the disease—usually accompanied by fever, rash and fatigue—often doesn't make the list when doctors are trying to make a diagnosis.

Lyme, after all, is named after a town in Connecticut and public awareness associates it with in the northeastern United States, even though the disease has also gained a foothold in the upper Midwest.

Still, Nieto said the research team, which included collaborators from California, is "surprised at the traction" the story is getting, considering that Lyme disease has been investigated there for 35 years. The real surprise, Nieto said, is that his lab also identified Borrelia miyamotoi, only recently recognized as a fever-causing pathogen that affects people.

The findings appear online in the March issue of Emerging Infectious Disease. Nieto sees the attention as just one more step in raising awareness about tick-borne pathogens.

"What we would like, for starters, is for clinicians to understand that Lyme disease is in the West," Nieto said. "But they also need to know that B. miyamotoi exists there."

The Nieto lab performed the molecular diagnostics and sampling of ticks recovered from parks throughout the Bay Area and NAU's Environmental Genetics and Genomics Laboratory performed the sequencing. Nieto said a group of undergraduate students, guided by himself and graduate student Stephanie Cinkovich, extracted DNA from the ticks, sequenced the genes and matched them through an online database.

Nieto explained that the hard ticks carrying Lyme disease do have their geographic limitations, so Arizona—except for a small area in the Hualapai Range near Kingman—remains unaffected. However, soft ticks, which carry pathogens that cause relapsing fever, thrive at higher and drier altitudes, and can be even more of a risk because their bites are less easy to detect.

For now, Nieto said, the current research project will continue to focus on specific areas of California.

"We're going to keep looking," Nieto said. "We're interested in identifying reservoirs of the Borreliae and how that translates to risk."

The work, he said, relates to the wider mission of his lab, which studies numerous types of zoonotic pathogens, including hantaviruses.

"We would like to show on a map where different variations occur so we can show the public where the areas of highest risk are," Nieto said.

Explore further: Key to Lyme disease's locale may be found in the gut of a tick

More information: Salkeld DJ, Cinkovich S, Nieto NC. Tick-borne pathogens in northwestern California, USA . Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Mar. DOI: 10.3201/eid2003.130668

Related Stories

Key to Lyme disease's locale may be found in the gut of a tick

January 16, 2014
The prevalence of Lyme disease varies greatly between different locales throughout the Northeast, even though the deer ticks that transmit Lyme bacterium are common throughout the entire region.

Ticks may cause double trouble, scientists find

February 18, 2014
As winter turns to spring and many Northern Californians plan outdoor adventures, a mysterious, potentially debilitating threat looms.

New tick-borne disease discovered

September 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Yale School of Public Health researchers in collaboration with Russian scientists have discovered a new tick-borne bacterium that might be causing disease in the United States and elsewhere. Their findings ...

Test for persistent Lyme infection using live ticks shown safe in clinical study

February 12, 2014
In a first-of-its-kind study for Lyme disease, researchers have used live, disease-free ticks to see if Lyme disease bacteria can be detected in people who continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue or arthritis after ...

Recommended for you

Researchers report new system to study chronic hepatitis B

July 25, 2017
Scientists from Princeton University's Department of Molecular Biology have successfully tested a cell-culture system that will allow researchers to perform laboratory-based studies of long-term hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections. ...

Research examines lung cell turnover as risk factor and target for treatment of influenza pneumonia

July 24, 2017
Influenza is a recurring global health threat that, according to the World Health Organization, is responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths every year, most due to influenza pneumonia, or viral pneumonia. Infection with ...

Scientists propose novel therapy to lessen risk of obesity-linked disease

July 24, 2017
With obesity related illnesses a global pandemic, researchers propose in the Journal of Clinical Investigation using a blood thinner to target molecular drivers of chronic metabolic inflammation in people eating high-fat ...

Raccoon roundworm—a hidden human parasite?

July 24, 2017
The raccoon that topples your trashcan and pillages your garden may leave more than just a mess. More likely than not, it also contaminates your yard with parasites—most notably, raccoon roundworms (Baylisascaris procyonis).

Google searches can be used to track dengue in underdeveloped countries

July 20, 2017
An analytical tool that combines Google search data with government-provided clinical data can quickly and accurately track dengue fever in less-developed countries, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.