Health & Lifestyle

Vaccine could ward off lyme disease to help the thousands of Britons

Vaccine could ward off lyme disease to help the thousands of Britons every year affected by the condition

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being trialled and, if successful, could be available for use in 2025.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, spread by ticks, which affects thousands of Britons every year.

There are about 1,000 laboratory-confirmed cases a year in England and Wales, although the UK Health Security Agency estimates the true number of people affected is up to four times higher.

The disease is spread by infected Ixodes scapularis ticks that live in woodland and grassland throughout the UK. They can attach themselves to skin and suck blood using barbed mouth parts. While feeding, they can pass on Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which then travel through the bloodstream.

Symptoms, which can appear in days or weeks, include a large bull’s eye rash, generally at the site of the bite, although not everyone infected with the bacteria will see this tell-tale sign.

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being trialled and, if successful, could be available for use in 2025. A file photo is used above

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being trialled and, if successful, could be available for use in 2025. A file photo is used above 

The infection can also cause flu-like symptoms, paralysis of the facial muscles and nerve pain.

And if it persists, it can lead to pain and swelling in the joints and other debilitating symptoms, including difficulty concentrating and inflammation of heart tissue.

Since the first confirmed UK case in the 1980s, the number of people infected has risen steeply.

Longer, hotter summers and milder winters, lengthening the tick breeding season and making it easier for them to survive, plus greater awareness of Lyme disease, have been blamed for the rise.

Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are found all over the UK, but hotspots include grassland and woodland in southern England and the Scottish Highlands.

‘A vaccine would be good news for people at risk of catching Lyme disease, particularly those who spend a lot of time outdoors in environments where they are exposed to infected ticks,’ says Stella Huyshe-Shires, chair of the charity Lyme Disease Action.

Around 6,000 adults and children aged five and upwards will take part in a clinical trial that will test the VLA15 vaccine in the U.S. and mainland Europe.

The vaccine effectively trains the immune system to produce antibodies to proteins that are found in the outer membranes of the Borrelia bacteria when it is still in the tick’s gut. The antibodies stop the bacteria from leaving the tick.

Longer, hotter summers and milder winters, lengthening the tick breeding season and making it easier for them to survive, plus greater awareness of Lyme disease, have been blamed for the rise. A runner going past dried out grass on Blackheath, South East London is seen above yesterday

Longer, hotter summers and milder winters, lengthening the tick breeding season and making it easier for them to survive, plus greater awareness of Lyme disease, have been blamed for the rise. A runner going past dried out grass on Blackheath, South East London is seen above yesterday

Previous pre-clinical studies have already shown that VLA15 causes a strong immune response and is safe for humans.

Currently treatment of the disease is a course of antibiotics — but this needs to be taken as soon as possible after infection to be effective and prevent long-term symptoms, says Dr Jon Oliver, a public health entomologist (i.e. who studies insects) specialising in vector-borne diseases at the University of Minnesota.

But tick bites cause no pain and are often hidden — on the scalp or groin, for example — so treatment can be delayed.

‘Most tick-borne bacterial diseases, such as Lyme disease, require a tick to feed on a human, attached to the skin, for at least 24 hours before they transfer the bacterial disease,’ he says.

‘After 36 hours, the risk of transmission from an infected tick increases rapidly and by 60 hours, there is virtually a 100 per cent chance of transmission, so prompt treatment is essential.’

Even then, in up to 20 per cent of cases, antibiotics don’t work.

However, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in California have isolated an antibiotic, azlocillin, which has already been approved for use in the U.S., which completely kills the bacteria even if treatment doesn’t start until three days after initial infection.

But a vaccine to prevent the infection in the first place would be a welcome step forward, says Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

‘Antibiotic treatment is usually very good, but it needs to be given promptly to be fully effective, and untreated or partially treated Lyme disease can be debilitating,’ adds Professor Whitworth.

Cosmetic treatment works as well as depression pill

Injecting Botox into frown lines works as well for depression as a widely prescribed drug, reports the journal Brain and Behavior.

Patients given injections of botulinum toxin experienced a nearly 30 per cent reduction in their symptoms, compared with 24 per cent in the group given the antidepressant sertraline. They also had fewer side-effects.

It’s thought the effects are due to ‘facial feedback’ — the idea that a facial expression not only expresses an emotion, but making that expression feeds back to the emotional side of the brain. Here, preventing frowning blocks that negative feedback.

Tiny ‘robots’ that clean your teeth could one day replace toothbrushes and flossing, reports the journal ACS Nano. The robots are formed from millions of iron oxide nanoparticles — each too small to be seen with the naked eye. Once exposed to a magnetic field, the nanoparticles form into ‘bristles’ that squeeze between the tiniest of gaps, scraping off harmful bacteria. 

Now air pollution is linked to diabetes

Air pollution increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China.

They analysed global health trends over a 20-year period and found that airborne toxins — both indoors and outdoors — were linked with 290,000 deaths a year from the condition, which is usually associated with poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. 

Just how air pollution raises the risk of diabetes is unclear. But the scientists, writing in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, said one possibility is that it triggers inflammation in tissue, stopping insulin — the hormone that keeps blood sugar levels in check — from working properly.

Air pollution increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China

Air pollution increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China

Clothes call

How what you wear can affect your health. This week: Long sleeves can alter blood pressure results

Opt for short sleeves when your blood pressure is tested, as taking it with a sleeve pushed up can lead to a false reading, says Dr Michael Bursztyn, a cardiologist at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel.

‘When the sleeve is rolled up it can press on the brachial artery in the arm [the main blood supply] and alter blood pressure,’ he says.

And unless you have an abnormally long upper arm, he suggests it’s not possible to place the cuff in the correct position in the midpoint of the upper arm with the sleeve moved up, which may also change the reading.

Did you know?

Some antibiotics such as metronidazole and tinidazole can react with alcohol in wine or spirits, resulting in vomiting and headaches, says Simon Maxwell, a professor in clinical pharmacology at Edinburgh University. 

‘This happens as these antibiotics prevent alcohol from being completely broken down in the body, leading to the build-up of acetaldehyde (a toxic by-product), which causes the flushing, dizziness, vomiting and headaches.’ 

In your dreams

Surprising things down to genetics. This week: The gene that cuts your need for sleep

If you’re one of those people who’s able to sleep for four to six hours and still wake up feeling alert, then you may have a gene mutation known as DEC2 — according to research from the University of California, San Francisco in 2009.

The researchers found that mice engineered to have the same mutation seen in human short sleepers were awake for 8 per cent longer than mice without the gene.

They also experienced 2 per cent less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when we dream, and 6 per cent less non-REM sleep (the more restorative deep sleep) than the other mice over a 12-hour period.

The researchers said that DEC2 helps control levels of orexin, a hormone involved in wakefulness. The gene mutation seems to help release the brakes on orexin production.

Can chilling nerves help ease agony of post-op knee pain?

Freezing nerves in the knee before joint replacement surgery may prevent months of pain afterwards.

Up to 100,000 such operations are carried out in the UK each year due to wear and tear. But it can take several months for patients to recover from the pain.

In a trial involving 120 patients at Tennessee University Health Science Center in the U.S., half underwent cryo-neurolysis, where a probe was inserted into the knee joint to freeze nerves down to -20c before surgery. Freezing nerves this way blocks the pain signals.

Results in the Journal of Arthroplasty showed it reduced the amount of painkillers patients needed after surgery and led to better mobility.

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