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As Lyme disease tests miss many acute infections, potential at-home test offers hope for earlier diagnosis

When Americans spend time in the great outdoors this summer, they don’t want to come back home with any uninvited guests. 

Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, can have severe complications if left untreated or unnoticed.

Prompt treatment is essential to prevent the spread of the disease elsewhere in the body.

TICK BITES AND LYME DISEASE: WHAT TO DO IF A TICK BITES YOU OR YOUR PET

“The only FDA-approved diagnostic for Lyme disease measures antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi, not the presence of the bacterium itself,” Linda Giampa, executive director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation in San Francisco, California, told Fox News Digital. 

“Lyme disease has been commonly misdiagnosed by unreliable tests for far too long.”

“Lyme disease has been commonly misdiagnosed by unreliable tests for far too long, and there are currently no reputable at-home tests on the market,” she also said.

Symptoms may mimic the flu

Some 35,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC every year, but the number of cases is grossly underreported — with insurance records estimating the true annual number around 476,000, according to experts. 

The infection was named where it was first discovered: Lyme, Connecticut.

In later stages of the disease, such as days to months after the tick bite, untreated Lyme disease can spread to other parts of the body in about 60% of the patients.

Lyme disease with ticks shown

A tick is shown running over a hand in June 2021.  (Bernd Weissbrod/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“This requires both a healthy immune system and time to produce a robust enough response that can be detected (i.e., anti-B. burgdorferi titer),” Dr. Brandon Jutras, associate professor in the department of biochemistry and a member of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, told Fox News Digital via email.

At-home test directly detects bacteria

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, a nonprofit to advance research of Lyme disease, initiated a competition known as the LymeX Diagnostics Prize.

The Jutras team at Virginia Tech is focusing on a component in the cell wall that’s unique to the bacteria that cause the disease.

There are 10 teams competing in the second round, including the team at Virginia Tech.

medications and lab tests

The goal of the competition known as the LymeX Diagnostics Prize is to inspire researchers to develop better diagnostic tests to detect active Lyme disease infections in people more accurately. The group at Virginia Tech is working on an at-home test that could enable “direct detection” of Lyme disease within just hours of transmission.  (iStock)

“Among the promising diagnostics supported by the LymeX Diagnostics Prize are at-home tests, which are being developed by a research group at Virginia Tech to enable direct detection of the Lyme disease bacterium within hours of transmission,” Giampa noted. 

The Jutras team is focusing on a component in the cell wall that’s unique to the bacteria that cause the disease.

“Virtually all bacteria have layer(s) of peptidoglycan, and many of the components that make up peptidoglycan are highly similar,” Jutras told Fox News Digital.

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“As it turns out, the peptidoglycan from the bacterium that causes Lyme disease is vastly different.”

So it’s not always clear from the current recommended testing available if the patient has an active infection — or was infected in the past.

Although it will be likely several years before his test may be ready for use, “our approach would, in theory, work immediately after transmission because as long as the bacterium is replicating, [it is] shedding peptidoglycan,” he said.

It will be likely several years before this test may be ready for use.

“Our test exploits this process,” he said — noting that he hopes it “will lead to a rapid, specific test that doesn’t rely on a patient response.”

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LymeX Diagnostic Prize officials note on the competition’s website, “As the geographic range of ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas that can transmit pathogens and cause disease expands within the United States, the need for diagnostic innovation will only become more urgent.”

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