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Lyme Vaccine for Mice Could Protect People

A new vaccine would protect mice against Lyme disease
A new vaccine would protect mice against Lyme disease in order to protect people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An experimental vaccine to control Lyme disease by targeting the mice that spread it cut the number of infected ticks by more than 75 percent after a couple of years, researchers reported Wednesday.

Produced in pellets that resemble pet food kibble, the vaccine protected mice, which in turn were far less likely to infect the ticks that bit them, the researchers reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“Over a few years we saw a 75 percent reduction in the number of infected ticks,” said Dr. Tom Monath, a member of the board of U.S. Biologic, the company making the vaccine. “That would almost certainly result in a reduction of human infections.”

Luciana Meirelles Richer of the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center and colleagues tested the vaccine in a wooded part of New York over five years. It took a couple of years, but they saw a marked reduction in the number of infected ticks.

Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread by a complicated cycle. Mice carry the infection and can transmit it to baby ticks who feed on their blood. Ticks infect new mice the next year when they feed again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 people are infected with Lyme every year.

U.S. Biologic is working to get the new vaccine approved by the USDA. The pellets would be sprinkled around in parks, on hiking trails and other areas where people are most likely to get infected.

“It’s cheaper than what you feed your dog. Very cheap,” Monath told NBC News.