Health Watch -- Warm Weather Worries (Part 2)

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New research is helping scientists learn more about how Lyme disease works.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas recently reported an interesting finding about Lyme disease.

The researchers are studying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The bacteria colonize in the gut of a tick, so they're then spread to any animals the tick bites - including mice, deer and humans. The UT Southwestern researchers found the key to the bacterium's survival and colonization.

A specific protein in the outer surface of the bacterium appears to be essential for colonization within ticks. Dr. Michael Norgard, UT Southwestern's chairman of microbiology, says without this protein, the bacterium can't sustain itself and replicate inside a tick. Bacteria genetically modified to be without this protein could still infect mice, but didn't colonize within ticks.

Researchers still aren't sure what the medical implications of this discovery might be, but understanding how the bacterium works is a step forward. For now, though, it's best to follow the preventative measures: wear long pants and long sleeves when outdoors, use insect repellant and check your body for ticks when you get back indoors.

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March 2004

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