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NIH sets five-year plan for tickborne disease research

With an increase of nearly 10,000 cases of tickborne disease from 2016 to 2017 -- mostly lyme disease -- the National Institutes of Health announced a five-year plan to expand research and reduce infections.

By Stephen Feller
Having seen a significant increase in cases of tickborne disease in the last two decades, the National Institutes of Health has launched plans to increase disease, vaccine and treatment research. File photo by Roman Prokhorov/Shutterstock
Having seen a significant increase in cases of tickborne disease in the last two decades, the National Institutes of Health has launched plans to increase disease, vaccine and treatment research. File photo by Roman Prokhorov/Shutterstock

Oct. 11 (UPI) -- With an increase of nearly 10,000 cases of tickborne disease from 2016 to 2017 -- mostly lyme disease -- the National Institutes of Health announced a five-year plan to expand research and reduce infections.

The NIH on Thursday announced the five-priority, five-year plan to expand research, develop treatment and raise awareness of tickborne diseases, spurred by increases in infection over the last 20 years.

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The number of tickborne diseases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than doubled from 2004 to 2016, represents more than 75 percent of all vector-borne disease cases and hit a record-high of 59,349 in 2017. In 2016, CDC reported 48,610 cases.

The number of tickborne disease cases "is expected to continue to grow as tick species expand their geographical reach and new tick-transmitted pathogens emerge, raising the potential for serious human illness and death," NIH said in a news release.

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The five-priority plan includes expanding research to understand tickborne infections, improving detection and diagnosis of infections; improvement of diagnostics to identify biomarkers and predict treatment success; which includes vaccines and immune-based treatments; new treatments for diseases and techniques to reduce medical complications; and improving researcher access to samples, data and promising treatments.

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The NIH says that many tickborne diseases have recently been discovered, and that the explosion in cases requires the increase in attention. The most common disease spread by ticks, by far, is lyme disease.

Of all reported cases, roughly 82 percent are lyme disease. The CDC estimates, however, that it is underreported, and that the number of infections is ten times higher than research has shown.

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The NIH in April, ahead of releasing the plan, issued solicitations regarding work against tickborne diseases, and has increased its funding of tickborne diseases by $6 million for 2020 for new initiatives. The agency spent $56 million on tickborne disease work in 2018, $23 million of which was focused on lyme disease.

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