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Ticks Carrying Lyme-Like, Mystery Bacteria Found In Bay Area Parks

by Carlos E. Castañeda
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An adult deer tick. (USDA)

An adult deer tick. (USDA)

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STANFORD (CBS SF) – A newly-discovered mystery bacteria with unknown health effects is being carried by ticks and found in Bay Area parks, according to a Stanford University study.

The bacteria, Borrelia miyamotoi, has been found on ticks also carrying the bacteria which causes Lyme disease, B. burgdorferi, researchers said in a study to be published in the March issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Disease.

While only two percent of the samples were infected, ticks carrying one or both pathogens were found in nearly every one of 12 recreational areas along the Peninsula they looked at, according to the researchers.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans from the bite of a tick infected with B. burgdoferi and is named for Lyme, Conn. where it was first identified in 1975. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash. If untreated, infection can cause secondary health problems, such as arthritis, joint pain and immune system deficiencies.

The first known human case of B. miyamotoi infection was discovered in 2013 and aside from Lyme-like symptoms, little is known about the pathogen, according to researchers.

Most patients recover from Lyme disease with antibiotics, but not everyone finds relief and researcher Dan Salkeld said the new pathogen may not be getting accurately diagnosed. “People who have difficulty getting diagnoses – maybe this is involved,” Salkeld told the Stanford News Service.

While Lyme disease is much more prevalent in the Northeast than in California – only two percent of local ticks carry the Lyme bacteria compared to 35 percent in the Northeast – Salkeld said researchers were surprised to ticks infected with the new pathogen at slightly higher rates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says confirmed or probably Lyme cases are growing nationwide and researchers believe the cases will continue to increase as doctors become more familiar with it.

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