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Borrelia mayonii: A New Lyme Disease-causing Bacteria


Richard Krieger, MD, chairman of the Infection Control Committee at Chilton Medical Center, and infectious disease physician at ID care, discusses whether the new Lyme-carrying bacteria, Borrelia mayonii, has different effects than Borrelia burgdorferi.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“When I first read the articles on Borrelia mayonii, at first I thought, ‘That’s pretty interesting; it’s another organism [that transmits Lyme],’ but it probably doesn’t come as a tremendous surprise because, for instance, in Europe there are different species (don’t ask me to name them) but there are different species of Borrelia that will cause Lyme disease and the illness they cause has a slightly different 'flavor' than what we have here in the States. It doesn’t surprise me that we have more than one species and we may discover others, but ultimately, it almost doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

Borrelia mayonii may cause people to feel a little sicker, they seem to get more digestive-type symptoms (nausea, vomiting, fevers) than the people [infected by] Borrelia burgdorferi, who have classic Lyme disease, but it’s treated exactly the same way; it’s picked up with the same tests, so it almost doesn’t matter. I mean it’s almost like ‘Okay, well you have this one and not that one.’ What does that mean in terms of treating it? Nothing. What does that mean in terms of getting better? Nothing. It just means that when you had it, you were sicker, but by the time you make the diagnosis, it’s all over. Whether somebody has [Lyme disease due to infection by one bacteria] or the other, it doesn’t matter.

As far as [Borrelia mayonii] spreading, I mean, I suppose it can spread. My inclination would be to think [that] it’s not going to spread rapidly because the ticks are not like mosquitoes, where they can fly (even mosquitoes don’t fly a great distance, but they can fly and eventually fan out). Ticks kind of depend on [animals or humans] to move them, so I suppose if a tick bites a white-footed mouse or winters on a deer and the deer moves miles away and then the tick drops off, you can have infected ticks. Eventually I would assume that it will spread out, but we haven’t found it yet outside of those two states (I believe it’s Minnesota and Wisconsin) in that Upper-Midwest area. If it’s spreading, it’s certainly spreading very slowly.

As far as who is susceptible more to one versus the other, Borrelia mayonii versus Borrelia burgdorferi, I think it’s more a case of where you live and where you’re exposed and whether you were bitten by a Borrelia mayonii tick [or] a Borrelia burgdorferi tick. [We can't say] 'Well [with] this one, because you have X, Y, and Z, in your makeup, you’re more likely to get sick from this tick than from that tick.' I don’t think that’s the case, I think it’s more the case of the exposure itself and again, if you don’t live in the Upper-Midwest then it’s very improbable at this stage that one would get that infection [from] Borrelia mayonii.”
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