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A vaccine could stave off Lyme disease and help thousands of Britons

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A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being tested and, if successful, could be available for use in 2025.

Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial infection that affects thousands of Britons every year.

There are about 1,000 laboratory-confirmed cases in England and Wales each year, although the UK Health Safety Authority estimates the actual number of people affected is up to four times higher.

The disease is spread by infected Ixodes scapularis ticks, which live in woodlands and pastures across the UK. They can attach to skin and suck blood using their barbed mouthparts. They can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria during feeding, which then travel through the bloodstream.

Symptoms, which can appear within days or weeks, include a large bull’s-eye rash, usually at the site of the bite, although not everyone infected with the bacteria will see this sign.

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being tested and, if successful, could be available for use in 2025. File photo used above

A vaccine designed to protect against Lyme disease is being tested and, if successful, could be available for use in 2025. File photo used above

The infection can also cause flu-like symptoms, facial muscle paralysis, and nerve pain.

And if it persists, it can lead to joint pain and swelling and other debilitating symptoms, including difficulty concentrating and inflammation of heart tissue.

Since the first confirmed case in Great Britain in the 1980s, the number of people infected has risen sharply.

Longer, warmer summers and milder winters, which lengthen the breeding season for ticks and make it easier for them to survive, plus greater awareness of Lyme disease, are blamed for the increase.

Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are found throughout the UK, but outbreaks include pastures and woodlands in southern England and the Scottish Highlands.

“A vaccine would be good news for people at risk of Lyme disease, especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors in environments where they are exposed to infected ticks,” says Stella Huyshe-Shires, chair of the charity Lyme Disease Action.

About 6,000 adults and children ages five and older will participate in a clinical trial that will test the VLA15 vaccine in the US and continental Europe.

The vaccine effectively trains the immune system to produce antibodies against proteins found in the outer membranes of the Borrelia bacteria while they are still in the tick’s gut. The antibodies prevent the bacteria from leaving the tick.

Longer, warmer summers and milder winters, which lengthen the breeding season for ticks and make it easier for them to survive, plus greater awareness of Lyme disease, are blamed for the increase.  A runner is seen walking past the dried grass on Blackheath, south-east London, yesterday above

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Longer, warmer summers and milder winters, which lengthen the breeding season for ticks and make it easier for them to survive, plus greater awareness of Lyme disease, are blamed for the increase. A runner is seen walking past the dried grass on Blackheath, south-east London, yesterday above

Previous preclinical studies have already shown that VLA15 causes a strong immune response and is safe for humans.

Currently, the treatment for the disease is antibiotics — but they need to be given as soon as possible after infection to be effective and prevent long-term symptoms, says Dr. Jon Oliver, a public health entomologist (i.e., the study of insects) specializing in vector-borne diseases at the University of Minnesota .

However, tick bites do not cause any pain and are often hidden – such as on the scalp or in the groin – so treatment may be delayed.

“Most tick-borne bacterial diseases, such as Lyme disease, require the tick to feed on a human attached to the skin for at least 24 hours before they transmit the bacterial disease,” he says.

“After 36 hours the risk of transmission from an infected tick increases rapidly and after 60 hours there is virtually a 100% chance of transmission, so prompt treatment is essential.”

Even then, in up to 20 percent of cases, antibiotics don’t work.

However, scientists at the Stanford School of Medicine in California have isolated an antibiotic, azlocillin, already approved for use in the US, that completely kills the bacteria, even if treatment is not started until three days after the initial infection.

But a vaccine to prevent infection would be a welcome step forward, says Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Antibiotic treatment is usually very good, but it must be given immediately to be fully effective, and untreated or partially treated Lyme disease can be debilitating,” adds Professor Whitworth.

A cosmetic treatment works just like a pill for depression

Injecting Botox into frown lines works as well as a widely prescribed depression drug, reports the journal Brain and Behavior.

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Patients who received botulinum toxin injections experienced a nearly 30% reduction in symptoms, compared to 24% in the group receiving the antidepressant sertraline. They also had fewer side effects.

The effects are thought to be due to “facial feedback” – the idea that a facial expression not only conveys an emotion, but that the expression creates feedback for the emotional side of the brain. Here, frown prevention blocks negative feedback.

Tiny “robots” that clean your teeth could one day replace toothbrushes and floss, reports the journal ACS Nano. The robots are made of millions of iron oxide nanoparticles – each one too small to be seen with the naked eye. Once the nanoparticles are exposed to a magnetic field, they form into “bristles” that squeeze into the tiniest of gaps and scrape out harmful bacteria.

Now air pollution is linked to diabetes

Air pollution increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at the Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China.

They analyzed global health trends over 20 years and found that airborne toxins—both indoors and outdoors—were linked to 290,000 deaths a year from the condition, which is usually linked to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

It is not clear how air pollution increases the risk of diabetes. But scientists, writing in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, said one possibility is that it triggers inflammation in the tissue and stops insulin, the hormone that keeps blood sugar under control, from working properly.

Air pollution increases risk of type 2 diabetes, say researchers from Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China

Air pollution increases risk of type 2 diabetes, say researchers from Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China

The clothes are calling

How what you wear can affect your health. This week: Long sleeves can change blood pressure results

Opt for short sleeves when taking your blood pressure, as taking it with the sleeve rolled up can lead to false readings, says Dr. Michael Bursztyn, a cardiologist at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel.

“When the sleeve is rolled up, it can put pressure on the brachial artery in the arm [the main blood supply] and change blood pressure,” he says.

And if you don’t have an abnormally long arm, he suggests that it’s impossible to get the cuff in the correct position in the middle of the upper arm with the sleeve pushed up, which can also change the reading.

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Did you know?

Some antibiotics, such as metronidazole and tinidazole, can react with alcohol in wine or spirits, resulting in vomiting and headaches, says Simon Maxwell, professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh.

“This happens because these antibiotics prevent the body from fully breaking down alcohol, which leads to a buildup of acetaldehyde (a toxic byproduct) that causes hot flashes, dizziness, vomiting, and headaches.”

In your dreams

Surprising things down to genetics. This week: The gene that reduces your need for sleep

If you’re one of those people who can sleep four to six hours and still wake up feeling alert, then you may have a gene mutation known as DEC2 — according to 2009 research from the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers found that mice engineered to have the same mutation seen in short-sleepers were awake 8 percent longer than mice without the gene.

They also experienced 2 percent less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when we dream, and 6 percent less non-REM sleep (the more restorative deep sleep) than the other mice over a 12-hour period.

The researchers said DEC2 helps control levels of orexin, a hormone involved in wakefulness. The gene mutation appears to help release the brakes on orexin production.

Can freezing nerves help ease the agony of post-op knee pain?

Freezing the nerves in the knee before joint replacement surgery can prevent months of pain afterward.

Up to 100,000 such operations are carried out in the UK each year due to wear and tear. However, patients may take several months to recover from the pain.

In a study involving 120 patients at the Tennessee University Health Science Center in the US, half underwent cryoneurolysis, where a probe was inserted into the knee joint that froze the nerves to -20°C before surgery. Freezing the nerves in this way blocks pain signals.

Results in the Journal of Arthroplasty showed that it reduced the amount of pain medication patients needed after surgery and led to better mobility.

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