In the U.S. case, an 80-year-old woman who lived on a farm in New Jersey was infected by the Borrelia miyamotoi germ. She suffered from non-Hodgkin lymphoma (which disrupts the immune system) and developed what appeared to be signs of dementia. She recovered after taking penicillin, and scientists later confirmed that she had been infected with the bacterium and may have developed swelling in the brain and brain lining as a result.
Researchers warned that the germ could be responsible for apparent cases of dementia in older people, especially those who suffer from conditions such as AIDS, which weaken the immune system. The germ also appears to cause fever, headache, chills and sweats, among other symptoms.
So how common might infection with the germ be?
Another new report in the journal found signs of B. miyamotoi infection in blood tests taken from people in New York and New England between 1990 and 2010. They were treated with the antibiotics doxycycline and amoxicillin, which are cheap and unlikely to have serious side effects, said lead author Dr. Peter Krause, a senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn.
He estimates that 4,000 to 5,000 cases of the disease may appear in the United States each year, compared with 30,000 of Lyme disease.
There is no test for the germ yet, but researchers are working on one. It should cost about $100, said Berardi, who also is an associate director of laboratory science at Imugen, a Norwood, Mass., company that develops medical tests.
For more about Lyme disease, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Victor Berardi, associate director of laboratory science, Imugen, Norwood, Mass.; Sam Telford III, Sc.D., professor of infectious disease, Tufts University, Medford, Mass.; Peter Krause,
All rights reserved