Dr. Ben Beard, PhD, Chief Bacterial Diseases Branch at the CDC, visited with Bay Area Lyme and invited guests as part of the foundation’s ongoing speaker series. This donor-sponsored forum brings together researchers and other experts in an intimate forum for topical discussions with community members. Past events have included Emerging Leader Award winners, clinicians, and patient advocates.
The next event, on Wednesday, March 2, will feature Dr. Christine Green, Director of Education for ILADS, and Allie Cashel, author of Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme Disease in an Age of Denial.
For more information, see Speaker Series.
As Chief of the CDC’s Bacterial Diseases Branch, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in Fort Collins, Colorado, Dr. Beard coordinates CDC’s programs on Lyme disease, plague, and tularemia. His scientific interests include public health and the biology, ecology, and genetics of insect-borne diseases and vectors. More recently, he has been extensively involved in the CDC’s work to understand and mitigate the potential impact of climate variability and change on infectious disease ecology. He shared the CDC’s concerns about the expanding disease burden and distribution of Lyme and affirmed the importance of attracting new research interest and efforts focused on Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.
Here are some of the highlights.
- Expanding incidence and distribution — There has been a dramatic increase in the incidence and geographic range of Lyme infections across the US, now an estimated 244,000-444,000 infections per year, with cases reported in all 50 states and in almost every county in CA. This increase has been attributed to suburban reforestation, a substantial increase in the number of deer, the expansion of suburbia into native wooded areas, and dramatic growth in the number of ticks, all of which lead to substantially greater numbers of people in direct contact with tick habitats and exposure to tick-borne infections. Dr. Beard also spoke of CDC-affirmed Lyme fatalities — patients who suffered sudden cardiac death due to a condition called Lyme carditis, pointing to the severe public health risks at play with Lyme. Dr. Beard also spoke of the challenges in reporting and accurately estimating Lyme disease and acknowledged that the CDC’s methodology for documenting notifiable cases was particularly stringent, likely contributing to a substantial degree of underreporting and underestimation of the scope of the disease.
- Numerous research questions still to be addressed — More pathogens and conditions are being discovered (including the recently documented Borrelia miyamotoi, Heartland Virus (presenting primarily in the midwest), Bourbon Virus, and the even newer Borrelia mayonii. There are simply not enough scientists specializing in the field or active research to further our understanding.
- Safe and effective prevention tools are badly needed — There is not enough interest, understanding, or awareness among the general public on issues of tick control and disease prevention. Responsibility for tick control should be shared between homeowners and their local communities and will require effective collaboration among community members, officials, and health care providers.And the challenges of the continued acrimony and polarization among key stakeholders in the field.
Dr. Beard then went on to share CDC Lyme prevention goals and strategic priorities:
- Strengthen national surveillance and understanding of the disease risk and burden
(Including working with health officials to improve case definitions and reporting practices, providing increased funding for surveillance, and improving estimates of case counts and economic impact)
- Identify, develop, and improve prevention and control practices, including new repellents and pesticides and the unveiling of a Lyme disease control “toolbox” summarizing methods of intervention from personal protection measures to host/carrier strategies (vaccines, baits and animal control measures). He highlighted promising new innovations by biotech firms like Evolva, which is developing Nootkatone, a naturally occurring citrus ingredient as a highly effective organic repellent against Lyme-carrying ticks.
- Improve early and accurate diagnosis and treatment
(Supporting efforts to further the next generation of direct diagnostics (metabolomics) as well as continuing education for the clinical field)
- Identify, characterize, and and prevent illness caused by the newly-identifed Borrelia species by funding new research — several new studies are already underway
- Collaborate with key partners to promote the use of effective prevention tools and strategies
(Cited examples included partnerships with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the EPA, and USDA as well as state and local health departments andrategies advocacy groups to align around communication and education strategies
We at Bay Area Lyme Foundation look forward to continued collaboration with the CDC and other Lyme disease community and research organizations in hopes of ensuring greater awareness, recognition, and investigation into the causes, prevention, and treatment of Lyme disease.
We are also grateful for the opportunity to expand the public dialogue around these important issues through informed discussion with leaders like Dr. Beard. Thank you!