A research team in the US has developed new approaches that can detect the presence of Lyme disease bacteria weeks earlier compared to existing tests.
Led by Rutgers University, the team included scientists from Harvard University, Yale University, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others.
The new techniques are designed to identify DNA or protein from the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.
They are said to detect an active infection faster than the three weeks required for the current indirect antibody-based tests.
As a positive result with the new tests indicates an active infection, the methods are expected to aid in quicker treatment to prevent long-term health problems.
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School physician-scientist Steven Schutzer said: “These direct tests are needed because you can get Lyme disease more than once, features are often non-diagnostic and the current standard FDA-approved tests cannot distinguish an active, ongoing infection from a past cured one.
“The problem is worsening because Lyme disease has increased in numbers to 300,000 per year in the United States and is spreading across the country and world.”
The current FDA-approved Lyme disease tests detect antibodies that the body’s immune system produces in response to the infection.
According to the researchers, such single antibody tests are not good indicators of active disease but can be considered as an exposure indicator, past or present.
Schutzer added: “The new tests that directly detect the Lyme agent’s DNA are more exact and are not susceptible to the same false-positive results and uncertainties associated with current FDA-approved indirect tests.”
The new findings have been published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal.