Lyme Disease Is Ancient History Only Recently Spreading Rapidly with Help from Humans

Posted by Mosquito Squad

December 20, 2023

Massachusetts residents are typically somewhat familiar with the recent history of Lyme disease. Named for its 1976 discovery in Lyme, Connecticut, the disease has rapidly spread across New England and the Midwest ever since. But, what if I told you the disease was much, much older?

How Old is Lyme Disease?

Last year, we reported that the bacteria that caused Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, was discovered in a 5,300-year-old mummified person in Italy. But new information indicates the bacteria is even older. In fact, the recently completed full genome sequence of Borrelia burgdorferi indicates the bacteria is 60,000 years old. As reported by MedicalXpress, this discovery challenges previous notions that the current epidemic level of Lyme disease was caused by the bacterium being new or mutated to make it more transmissible, but in fact is due to recent ecological changes.

The forest fragmentation and explosion of the deer population seem to be a more likely cause of the recent rapid rate of transmission of Lyme disease. More deer, thanks to strict hunting regulations and fewer predators, and the suburbanization of New England and the Midwest has created the perfect conditions for the deer tick and subsequently Lyme disease to thrive. In addition to perfect conditions for spreading, Borrelia burgdorferireceives additional assistance from the warming climate which allows deer ticks to “survive an estimated 28 miles further north each year.” All of these scenarios certainly apply to Massachusetts — who can blame us, everyone wants to live here.

Lyme Disease in the U.S. Originated in the Northeast

The team responsible for mapping the b. burgdorferi genome was able to chart out the evolutionary tree of the pathogen. They discovered that the bacterium probably originated in the northeast United States. It then spread south and west. The pathogen was likely transported long distances by birds and then spread further by small mammals, such as the white-footed mouse. With ticks spreading into suburban landscapes where Robins and white-footed mice are plentiful, it has been able to spread quickly, infecting more humans.

While the bacteria that causes Lyme disease has been around for 60,000 years, it has only been in the last fifty years that humans have been working towards ways to combat the disease. With continuous research in both medical intervention and tick control intervention, we are hopeful the diseases spread will begin to slow. Until then, we are pleased to offer effective tick control methods for your home and property. The first step to preventing Lyme disease right now is avoiding ticks and tick bites. Call Mosquito Squad of the North Shore or Mosquito Squad of Central Massachusetts today to learn more about our tick control solutions.