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Healthline Physical Health

A new treatment for Lyme disease?

  • Lyme disease affects around 476,000 people in the United States every year.
  • Clinicians treat Lyme disease with broad-spectrum antibiotics.
  • However, these can damage a person’s gut microbiome, which may contribute to chronic Lyme disease.
  • Researchers have identified a narrow-spectrum antibiotic that is effective against the condition.
  • This may open the door to the eradication of Lyme disease in the environment.
Researchers have identified a narrow-spectrum antibiotic that is effective against Lyme disease.
The finding, which features in a study in the journal Cell, may help eradicate Lyme disease and protect people from developing chronic forms of the condition.

Lyme disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, Lyme disease is the most common type of indirect disease in the United States. The condition occurs due to bites from black-legged ticks that carry the infection.

A person typically develops Lyme disease when bacteria pass on to them through ticks feeding on their blood. The bacteria — most commonly Borrelia burgdorferi — can cause an infection, with symptoms that include headache, fever, rash, and fatigue.

The CDC notesTrusted Source that without treatment, Lyme disease can spread to a person’s heart, joints, and nervous system, causing intense headaches, painful arthritis, facial palsy, and heart palpitations.

Health experts believe that 476,000 peopleTrusted Source get Lyme disease each year in the U.S.

Clinicians treat the conditionTrusted Source with broad-spectrum antibiotics. And while these are effective at fighting the infection, they also come with downsides.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics can reduce the diversity of a person’s gut microbiome. Researchers have linked this disruption of the gut microbiome to many different chronic diseases.

Some of the present study’s authors have previously shown that people who develop chronic Lyme disease — a condition characterized by pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues — have a distinct microbiome signature.

This may mean that chronic Lyme disease is partly due to the disruption of a person’s gut microbiome after they receive broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat the initial Lyme disease infection.

Speaking to Medical News Today, Dr. Meera Unnikrishnan, an expert of microbial infections at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, United Kingdom, who was not involved in the present study, said, “[a]lthough the direct relationship of microbiome disruption with post-treatment Lyme disease has not been established, an antibiotic that prevents disruption of the gut microbiota would certainly help prevent any long-term microbiome-associated effects in this disease.”

Additionally, the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics increases the chances that antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge. Antibiotics are crucial for saving the lives of countless people. The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source places antimicrobial resistance in the top ten global public health threats facing humanity.

In response, the researchers behind the present study wanted to try and identify a narrow-spectrum antibiotic to treat Lyme disease.

Narrow-spectrum antibiotics are effective against far fewer microbes and are therefore less likely to disrupt a person’s gut microbiome significantly. They are also less likely to encourage the emergence of microbes resistant to antibiotics.

Overlooked Antimicrobial

The researchers looked for compounds that would be effective against B. burgdorferi, the most common bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
To do this, they conducted a selective screen against B. burgdorferi. This identified the compound hygromycin A, a type of antimicrobial found in soil that experts originally identified in 1953.
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