Lyme disease is widely known to be caused by just one type of bacteria, but researchers found a new species that causes the debilitating disease in humans.

In a collaborative effort by the Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and health officials from the states of Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota - scientists report that a newly discovered species of bacteria, dubbed Borrelia mayonii, can also cause the dreaded Lyme disease.

"This discovery adds another important piece of information to the complex picture of tickborne diseases in the United States," Dr. Jeannine Petersen from the CDC, said.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can spread through the bites of blacklegged ticks. CDC reports that almost half of the total number of counties in the United States house hordes of ticks that carry the disease.

Commonly caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme disease is characterized by symptoms such as rash, neck pain and fever. As the disease progresses, it can cause arthritis.

The new strain, however, may cause vomiting and nausea. In terms of the typical rash, it causes more widespread rashes on the body, unlike the previous one that comes with rashes comparable with a bull's eye shape.

The researchers found the new species after studying laboratory samples from six people out of about 9,000 suspected of Lyme disease infection from 2012 to 2014. These samples showed unusual results that impelled further research. Additional genetic testing showed that the new species is closely related to B. burgdorferi.

At present, CDC's data show that the organism is limited to the upper Midwestern United States. CDC is working closely with health officials from the three states to shed light on the understanding of the disease. This will help in future investigations, diagnostics and treatment options for Lyme disease cases and how it has spread rapidly across states.

"CDC is investing in advanced technology to bring study of tickborne infections into a new era," said Ben Beard, Ph.D., chief of CDC's Bacterial Diseases Branch. He added that both the public and private sectors must work as a team to improve diagnosis of tickborne diseases.

Photo: Lennart Tange | Flickr

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