It is common knowledge that Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose and treat, but, according to Eva Sapi, Ph.D., assistant professor of cellular and molecular biology at the University of New Haven-and unbeknownst to the public and even many physicians-the deer ticks so notorious for carrying Lyme disease may often carry other crippling bacteria.

Sapi, an assistant professor of biology and environmental science at the University of New Haven, and several graduate students recently presented research demonstrating that over 84 percent of the ticks they tested were infected by Mycoplasma pathogens, bacteria which can wreak havoc reminiscent of the Borrelia bacterium responsible for Lyme disease. "Doctors are starting to realize that some of the patients who exhibit symptoms of Lyme disease but don't respond to treatment may be infected with a Mycoplasma pathogen," Sapi says. "We now have evidence of the presence of human pathogenic Mycoplasma species in deer ticks."

Sapi presented the research, "Recent Discoveries of Novel Pathogens in Ixodes Ticks in Southern Connecticut," during the national Lyme disease conference at UNH in May, and will submit it for publishing later this month. She notes that other studies have shown that some patients not responding to treatment for Lyme disease have responded to treatment for Mycoplasma. Determined to find the "missing link," Sapi and her cohorts tested 150 deer ticks for Mycoplasm bacteria, with over 84 percent of the ticks exhibiting infection with a single Mycoplasma pathogen. Co-infection rates were also very significant, at 27 percent, and three percent of the ticks were infected with all three Mycoplasma pathogens.

"More comprehensive studies on the transmission of Mycoplasma from ticks to humans need to be carried out to prove whether they are, in fact, transmitted from the ticks to humans," Says Sapi. "But, in the meantime, more doctors should consider testing suspected Lyme disease patients who are not responding well to treatment for Mycoplasma."

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