Step aside deer and ticks. It’s the mice that the medical community wants to get their hands on in their efforts to prevent Lyme disease.
Recent studies suggest that vaccinating mice can lower the number of ticks carrying the bacteria responsible for the disease. Legislation drafted by a Loudoun County state delegate would provide money for a similar two-year study in Virginia.
House Bill 354 would direct the state Department of Health to conduct a “point of disease” Lyme prevention pilot program.
“The deer carries the tick. The tick carries the disease. But the tick got the disease from the mouse,” said Del. Thomas “Tag” Greason (R-32), chief patron of the bill. “If you can cure the mouse, you’re stopping the disease at the point of prevention.”
The General Assembly passed a bill filed by Greason last year to form the Virginia Task Force on Lyme Disease. That group of medical professionals, the Virginia secretaries of health and secretary of commerce recommended the commonwealth set aside funding to see whether mice vaccines could curb the rate of Lyme.
“In the end, we think it would bring down the number of cases of Lyme,” said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department. He was one of about 20 individuals on the task force.
US BIOLOGIC, one of the companies in line to perform the pilot, led a study that baited mice with vaccine-laced oatmeal that was distributed in four plots of land in New York. After two years, 23 percent fewer tick nymphs were infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme. After five years of treatment, 76 percent fewer tick nymphs were infected.
Greason said one of his tasks during the General Assembly’s 60-day session is to secure funding for the pilot program, which costs $100 an acre. “If I could raise $1 million, then we’ll be able to cover a larger area,” he said.
The bill doesn’t include where in Virginia the pilot would be conducted. But Loudoun would be a good candidate. The county has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country.
The number of cases peaked at 261 in 2011, and were down to 193 in 2014. The total cases in 2015 will not be confirmed and tallied until March, according to Goodfriend.
Find more information about Lyme at loudoun.gov/lyme.