Scientists say they have developed a vaccine that offers ‘100 percent protection’ against contracting Lyme disease.
The jab uses an antibody that prevents the illness from being transmitted into the body from ticks.
It targets bacteria inside the tick’s gut as soon as the tick bites, explained experts from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Boston.
The team have tested the medicine on mice – which are biologically similar to humans.
Lyme disease is one of the fastest-growing infections in the Western world and its long-term effects can be crippling.
A host of celebrities have battled the illness including Bella Hadid, Martine McCutcheon and Avril Lavigne.
Dr Mark Klempner, professor of medicine at the school, told Western Mass News: ‘We take ticks that carry the bacteria – many of them – six or seven, put them on a small rodent, and then give that mouse a little bit of that anti-body.
‘It’s been 100 percent effective in preventing many ticks from transmitting.’
The seasonal injection of the single antibody could be given in the spring, and could last through the fall, when ticks are most active.
The developers say it has shown virtually no adverse side effects, but more testing needs to be done.
And this means that it could take another two-to-three years before it is available and it has passed the clinic trials required for approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
An antibody in a new vaccine targets bacteria inside the tick’s gut as soon as the tick bites
Dr Klempner explains that it is not a vaccine, which causes the body’s immune system to make a whole host of antibodies.
He said the ‘a-ha’ moment in identifying that single Lyme-preventing anti-body actually came from trial and error with the discontinued Lyme vaccine, of which he was also involved in researching.
‘If we’re exposing a little tiny mouse to six ticks that are all carrying the bacteria, and it can be 100 percent effective there, we think that in a person, by giving a comparable amount of anti-body, getting exposed to one tick – they’ll have a big margin of safety for protection.’
An early-stage sign is a distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite, usually around three to 30 days after being bitten
There are fears Lyme disease – transmitted after a bite from a tick carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria – could be officially classed as an epidemic within the next decade.
Incidences are thought to be increasing by 65 percent per year worldwide.
Estimates suggest that more than 300,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the US and more than 65,000 cases a year are diagnosed in Europe.
Spotted quickly, Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics. But if left undiagnosed, its impact can be devastating – in 25 per cent of cases, the nervous system is affected, causing numbness and memory problems.
Most tick bites happen in late spring, early summer and autumn because these are the times of year when most people take part in outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping.
There is a blood test for Lyme, but it’s not always accurate.
And diagnosis is also a problem because only one in three patients recalls being bitten by a tick – and not everyone gets the distinctive circular rash.
This means people with other common symptoms of Lyme disease — fever and joint pain — may have no idea they have it.