Researchers may now be able to detect Lyme disease in its earliest stages and differentiate it from other tick-borne ailments with similar symptoms, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The new research is creating a buzz within the medical community, as one of the major setbacks when it comes to properly diagnosing Lyme disease is that it can appear very similar to other ailments spread by ticks, including Southern tick-associated rash illness (often dubbed STARI). In addition, current Lyme disease tests available often produce unreliable results within the first four to six weeks of infection.
Researchers looked at blood samples of people who were both confirmed positive for Lyme disease and the samples of a set who were confirmed positive for STARI. By examining the molecular features of both sets, they were able to create a model that detected Lyme disease cases more accurately than standard diagnostic tests.
“We were able to tell the difference between early Lyme disease and Southern tick-associated rash illness by using biomarkers that show us how the body reacts to these illnesses,” John Belisle, a professor at Colorado State University and one of the authors of the study said in a statement. “This could be important in helping to more accurately detect early Lyme disease, which is crucial because the longer people wait for Lyme disease treatment, the higher the potential risk for having more severe symptoms.”
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 300,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, according to studies conducted by the CDC. Most cases in the U.S. occur in the Northeast and Midwest.
Symptoms of untreated Lyme disease includes facial palsy, severe headaches, episodes of dizziness, problems with short-term memory and nerve pain, according to the CDC.