The new Lyme disease vaccine requires two shots given about a month apart, followed by a third shot a year later. After the three-shot series, the new vaccine, called LYMErix, offers about 80 percent protection from Lyme disease. But after just the first two shots -- that is, the first year after vaccination -- the vaccine is only about 50 percent effective.
Click here for answers from the American Lyme Disease Foundation to frequently asked questions about the new vaccine.
This means that even the vaccinated will still have to check for ticks and use insect repellent -- especially this year, before they get that third shot. Ticks also carry other diseases that this vaccine can't prevent.
|One Ugly Bug: A Lyme Tick|
About 16,000 new Lyme disease cases are reported each year, a number that scientists expect to drop rapidly because of the new vaccine.
Typically, the illness -- named for Lyme, Connecticut, where it was discovered in 1975 -- starts with a telltale bull's-eye rash. It's followed by fatigue, chills, fevers and joint pain that can persist for weeks. Some people develop serious arthritis. If untreated, Lyme disease can damage the heart and nervous system.
Antibiotics can cure Lyme, and the earlier treatment starts the better. But there's no good test to diagnose Lyme disease and not everyone suffers early symptoms and knows to seek care.
In December, SmithKline Beecham's LYMErix, the world's first Lyme vaccine, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Now doctors are advising everyone ages 15 to 70 who lives in a Lyme-endemic state and spends time outdoors to consider being vaccinated.
The vaccine isn't for everyone yet. SmithKline hasn't finished testing it for safety and effectiveness for children; those results are expected later this year. It also has not been tested in the very elderly, pregnant women or people with some chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Don't panic if you get bitten by a tick without being vaccinated. All ticks don't carry Lyme, and they have to feed on you for about 48 hours before they can transmit the disease, said Phillip Baker, Lyme disease chief at the National Intitutes of Health. It takes that long for the Lyme bacteria hibernating in a tick's gut to activate and move into the salivary glands, where it's injected into a person.
"If you do regular tick checks each day and remove them, chances are you won't be infected," Baker said. "The bite itself is not enough."
The vaccine blocks Lyme by creating antibodies that recognize an outer protein of the bacteria in the tick's saliva, neutralizing it at skin level.
Doctors buy each shot for $49, but patients may pay up to $60 when the office visit is added.
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