Lyme disease is already pretty nasty.
Those who catch it after being bitten by the blacklegged tick can expect a barrage of unpleasant symptoms: fever, headache, rash, neck pain and, weeks later, arthritis. Now, you can add nausea and vomiting into the mix, along with a rash much different than that normally seen with Lyme disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic are warning the public about the new culprit that is causing these added symptoms — a bacteria called Borrelia mayonii, NBC News reported.
The good news is that B. mayonii is very much like the bacteria already known to cause Lyme disease, called Borrelia burgdorferi. It’s transmitted by the same tick, can be easily treated with the same antibiotics, and though the symptoms are a bit different, the bacteria doesn’t cause a more serious infection — so far.
Still, both health agencies want to warn the public about this new Lyme disease culprit and its symptoms, especially people in the Upper Midwest. So far, the new bacteria has only been found in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Scientists had pegged only one species of bacteria as a cause of the illness, CBS News noted. It has been around since 1975, when it was first discovered in the Northeast. It then spread outward, infecting people mostly in the south and east; the CDC believes 300,000 people catch Lyme every year. Since 1993, its prevalence has quadrupled.
Lyme disease is rarely fatal
Most sufferers spend several weeks recovering after taking oral antibiotics.
In Rochester, Minnesota, Mayo Clinic scientists were testing the blood of six people from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, who were believed to have Lyme disease. Those tests garnered unusual results, so they conducted more tests that resulted in the discovery of B. mayonii.
Initially, the new bacteria creates typical Lyme disease symptoms. But then it adds in nausea, vomiting, and concentrates in the blood at a higher rate.
But the new bacteria also causes a different kind of rash. Everyone associates Lyme disease with the “bull’s eye,” but now it also causes a widespread rash that one father said made his son look like a Dalmatian. He had “spots all over him,” recalled Mayo Clinic microbiologist Dr. Bobbi Pritt.
Two of the patients found with B. mayonii also reported neurological symptoms and severe fatigue; Pritt said they were so “zonked out they couldn’t be woken up. The other patient had vision disturbances, double vision.” Another still suffers with joint pain.
So far, researchers can’t predict whether the new bacteria will be more or less dangerous than the original, CDC microbiologist Jeannine Petersen told Reuters.
“We have fairly limited information in that our study described six patients. We need more patients in order to capture the full spectrum of those who might have less severe symptoms and those who might have more severe ones.”
They believe that B. mayonii just “recently emerged” because previous blood tests didn’t find it. And though it has only been found in two U.S. states right now, researchers are warning anyone who lives near the blacklegged tick to be aware. Both doctors and patients should also keep their eyes peeled for atypical Lyme disease symptoms.
To gather more information, the CDC is working to detect and characterize the bacteria found in up to 30,000 Lyme disease patients over the next few years.
Until then, people who get out in nature need to take precautions, like keeping clear of woody or brushy areas with high grass, sticking to trails, wearing protective clothing, and using insect repellents.
[Image via Sarah2/Shutterstock]