The Ecology of Lyme Disease

yme disease is often referred to as one of the emerging diseases. Unrecognized in the United States before 1975, it is

' now the most commonly reported vector-borne disease.

Because of the seeming explosion in the numbers of Lyme disease cases, and its apparent extension to new geographical areas, the ecology of Lyme disease is under intense study. In the northeastern United States, large increases in white-footed mouse populations occur in oak forests during years in which there is a heavy acorn crop, with a corresponding increase in Ixodes scapularis ticks. Both deer and mice feed on the acorns and subsequently spread the disease to adjacent areas. Variations in weather conditions, and their effect on food supply for these animals, might therefore be an important ecological factor, although it is not clear that weather cycles completely explain the emerging nature of the disease. The presence of animals other than white-footed mice for the ticks to feed on is another factor. Alternative tick hosts usually do not have a sustained Borrelia burgdorferi bacteremia following infection from a tick, and the blood of a common lizard host along the West Coast even kills the spirochetes. The role of snakes, foxes, and birds of prey that control mouse populations and that of birds, spiders, and wasps that feed on ticks are also under study. The challenge is to define more completely the ecology of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in order to predict their emergence and find new ways for their prevention.

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