Time to Think About Lyme

Backyards are popular places in the summer for pets and people. But a tiny, ugly, uninvited guest can possibly bring serious illness to your dog. Because it’s not 100 percent possible to prevent ticks from biting, vaccines may be the best way to prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease.

Ticks are the loathsome carriers of Lyme disease, an illness with symptoms such as arthritis, characterized by sudden onset of lameness, fever, lethargy, joint swelling, lymph node enlargement and loss of appetite.

Steven A. Levy, VMD, a nationally known Lyme disease researcher and veterinarian with Durham Veterinary Hospital in Durham, Conn., doesn’t believe enough veterinarians take the threat of Lyme disease seriously, even in hard-hit Connecticut.

One pet-owner recently took “”Petee”” to Levy, who showed all the classic symptoms of Lyme disease. The owners acknowledged the four-year-old Shetland sheep dog had never been vaccinated for Lyme, despite living in an endemic area. A test revealed he was positive for the tick-borne ailment.

Fortunately, Petey recovered after successive treatments with antibiotics. Levy then vaccinated the dog with Fort Dodge Animal Health’s LymeVax. Today, Petey is Lyme-free and his owners are ecstatic, Levy says.

Levy understands well the threat posed by the disease. Since the early 1990s, he has produced a series of scientific papers on Lyme disease, including several studies designed to assess the efficacy of Lyme vaccines. In fact, Levy and two colleagues are the only researchers to have conducted research on the effectiveness of popular Lyme disease vaccines in natural settings: All other papers focus on assessing vaccine efficacy in laboratory settings.

Most recently, Levy found that an OspA Lyme vaccine was effective in preventing Lyme in natural settings only 60 percent of the time. In contrast, a similar field trial Levy did in 2002 measuring Fort Dodge’s LymeVax® found that vaccinated animals were protected at a rate of 92 percent.

“”Our two published studies highlight the increased protection available from a multiple antigen vaccine like LymeVax®,” Levy says. ’’Multiple antigen technology allows for a broader range of protection because it can attack the Lyme organism both in the tick that transmits the disease and in the dogs that are bitten by infected ticks. Companies manufacturing OspA vaccines for humans have either declined to license them for use in people in the United States or taken them off the market after a brief period of availability.””

So it seems those tiny ticks are not only detestable, they’re downright mean. Left untreated, Lyme disease in dogs can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and damage to the neurological system. You may be able to prevent some exposure to ticks with external repellents. But it only takes one tick, and only one bite, to contract Lyme. As with all vaccines, consult with your veterinarian before beginning any prevention program.


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