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Researchers developing a shot against Lyme disease

As of Feb. 25, there were 2,129 cases of Lyme in 2019, the highest number ever reported in the state
FILE - This March 2002 file photo shows a deer tick under a microscope in the entomology lab at the University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown, R.I. (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

YARMOUTH, Maine (WCSH) — It's been a rough start so far this year when it comes to deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease and other co-infections.

A recent report found that nearly 40 percent of ticks submitted to the University of Maine Tick Lab last year were positive for Lyme.

Researchers say ticks carrying Lyme disease are now in all 16 counties.

As of Feb. 25, there were 2,129 cases of Lyme in 2019, the highest number ever reported in the state, according to the Maine CDC.

Last year, there were 685 cases of anaplasmosis and 138 cases of babesiosis were reported.

A safe and effective vaccine against Lyme is still years from reality, but researchers are working on a shot that could stop the disease before it starts.

To say the Marlowe family has been touched by Lyme is beyond an understatement.

"My whole family has gotten it and in my gut, I feel something happened with a tick," 12-year-old Jaime Marlowe said.

Jaime's older brother, sister and his mother, Pasha, suffer from the effects of Lyme disease and other co-infections. A year ago following strep throat, Jaime started suffering from debilitating pain.

"October, the groin pain was so much, it was hard for him to walk," Pasha said.

The family is seeing numerous Lyme specialists in Maine and out of state for treatment and help.

Because of what they have gone through, the family is open to getting a vaccine against Lyme.

The FDA has fast-tracked a vaccine being developed by a French company Valneva — but it won't be available for another four to five years.

For this family, that seems like an eternity.

"We don't want to fear going outside. We don't want to fear finding pleasure in the outdoors," Pasha said.

But at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, scientists are developing a different approach — a single injection — not a vaccine that would deliver a single anti-Lyme antibody directly to the patient.

"It prevents you from ever getting exposed to the bacteria," Dr. Mark Klempner said.

Dr. Klempner is the executive vice chancellor for MassBiologics and a professor of medicine at the university. The Boston-based nonprofit vaccine manufacturer overseen by the medical school is developing a Lyme pre-exposure shot.

The injection called LymePrEP is a prophylaxis shot against the bacteria that causes Lyme. Protection would begin immediately, instead of waiting for weeks as most vaccines require.

"If you went to take the shot today, you would be immune today. Differentiating from a vaccine where you would have to develop that immune response," Dr. Klempner said.

Dr. Klempner says a similar protective molecule is already being used to protect babies from certain viral infections. This anti-body kicks when a tick embeds into your skin — wiping out the bacteria before it reaches the bloodstream.

"It kills the bacteria in the intestine of the tick, so it never gets out into the tick wound where the bite is," Dr. Klempner said.

Just like how people get a flu shot every year, researchers envision patients getting this injection in late spring to protect themselves against Lyme through the entire tick season.

LymePrEP will begin human trials this summer. It could be available in doctor's offices and pharmacies in two years.

  • Resources for prevention and resources about ticks and Lyme disease and co-infections, including real-time data on cases reported to the Maine CDC.
  • Information on the LyPrEP shot being developed by MassBiologics, a non-profit vaccine maker overseen by the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

There is a GoFundMe to help the Marlowe family with out-of-pocket medical expenses.