The Mayo Clinic unintentionally discovered a new species of bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
The find, announced in early February, shatters the previously held belief that only one type of bacteria spread by ticks, Borrelia burgdorferi, causes the disease, KIMT reports.
Director of the Mayo Clinic Clinical Parasitology Lab, Bobbi Pritt, M.D., explains she made the discovery after stumbling upon unusual results while performing routine tests.
“This was kind of big deal. We knew this was going to be really important if this is actually an organism causing Lyme disease in humans, which it did end up being. So that was our first patient, and then very quickly afterward we detected multiple other patients for a total of six patients infected with this new organism,” explained Pritt.
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They named the new species Borrelia mayonii, after the Mayo Clinic. Pritt explained the symptoms associated with this species differ from the Lyme most are familiar with. For example, patients may vomit and feel nauseous -- symptoms that are not usually associated with Lyme disease.
In addition, the new species is also assumed to only live in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“We’ve tested tens of thousands of specimens from patients in all 50 states, and we have not detected Borrelia mayonii from any patient outside of the upper Midwest,” Pritt said.
While this new species may only live in two states, Pritt says all Americans should be cautious.
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“We have two organisms causing Lyme disease in the U.S. now,” she says. “There’s probably others out there that we don’t know about, so when ever people go outdoors, if they’re going to spend time outdoors or they think they’re exposed to tics or mosquitoes, they should protect themselves and use insect repellent.”
In a 2013 press release the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Lyme disease said it was worried about its prevalence after results revealed around 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year.
“We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater,” said Paul Mead, M.D., M.P.H, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC’s Lyme disease program. “This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention.”