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Tick Population Boom Could Mean Bad Year For Lyme Disease

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As we approach summer, experts warn this could be one of the worst years ever for Lyme disease.

That's thanks to an explosion in the tick population.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, researchers are closing in on a treatment that could essentially block the debilitating illness.

"Basically lost the whole second half of my twenties to Lyme disease," Jennifer Crystal said.

It took 8 years of being run down with flu-like symptoms before Jennifer Crystal was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease.

"Hard to get up a flight of stairs. I couldn't empty the dishwasher, I mean basic tasks," she said.

Even after the official diagnosis and treatment, Jennifer relapsed.

"It would be wonderful for people to be able to be protected from Lyme," she said.

Dr. Mark Klempner of the UMass Medical School may be on the brink of just such a treatment. It's called Lyme prep and is proving effective in preventing Lyme disease in animals.

"We think that this is a really safe approach. In mice it is incredibly effective, 100 percent effective," Dr. Klempner said.

The Lyme prep injection provides immediate protection, but it's not a vaccine. Instead, researchers have identified the specific antibody that kills the Lyme bacterium, so that even if you're bitten by an infected tick, you wouldn't get sick.

"We would intend to give this at the early part of the season, Lyme disease season," Dr. Klempner said. "The trick is to be able to make the antibody last long enough after a single injection that will cover the entire risk period of about 6 or 7 months."

Jennifer -- once an avid skier -- is now back on the slopes and feeling good, but she's taken medication every day to keep the disease in remission.

The next step is to produce a lot of the antibody for human safety testing, which could start as early as next spring.

Large scale manufacturing of monoclonal antibodies is costly, so even with the tremendous need for a Lyme preventive, Lyme prep could be expensive.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 300,000 Americans are infected with Lyme disease every year.



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