As North America heats up for summer, so does the activity of ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas, whose bites can carry diseases like Lyme, dengue and Zika, and plague. Between 2004 and 2016, more than 640,000 cases of these diseases were reported, and nine new germs spread by bites from infected mosquitoes and ticks were discovered or introduced in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month; people who become infected risk long-term problems with skin, heart, and joints–and brain. The disease can cause cognitive and memory impairment, headaches, neuropathic pain, facial palsies, encephalitis, and seizures.
Microbiologist and former Dana grantee Mark Wooten, at the University of Toledo, studies how the Lyme-triggering bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, carried by ticks, interacts with the mammalian immune system. He credits growing up on a farm in Arkansas, in an area with a lot of ticks, with piquing his interest in Lyme disease, which was then a relatively new discovery. He talked with us last year about what makes this bacterium so tricky: