Borrelia burgdorferi: another cause of foodborne illness?
Farrell GM, Marth EH.
Department of Food Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison 53706.
Borrelia burgdorferi was identified as the etiological agent of Lyme disease in 1982. This Gram-negative spirochete is classified in the order Spirochaetales and the family Spirochaetaceae. The pathogen is fastidious, microaerophilic, mesophilic and metabolises glucose through the Embden-Meyerhof pathway. A generation time of 11 to 12 h at 37 degrees C in Barbour-Stoenner-Kelly medium has been reported. Lyme disease, named after Lyme in Connecticut, is distributed globally. It is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States, where the incidence is highest in the eastern and midwestern states. Since establishment of national surveillance in 1982, there has been a nine-fold increase in the number of cases reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The deer tick of the genus Ixodes is the primary vector of Lyme borreliosis. The tick may become infected with B. burgdorferi, by feeding on an infected host, at any point in its 2-year life cycle which involves larval, nymphal and adult stages. The infection rate in deer ticks may be as high as 40% in endemic areas. The primary vertebrate reservoirs for Ixodes are the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and the white-tailed deer (Odocopileus virginianus). Dairy cattle and other food animals can be infected with B. burgdorferi and hence some raw foods of animal origin might be contaminated with the pathogen. Recent findings indicate that the pathogen may be transmitted orally to laboratory animals, without an arthropod vector. Thus, the possibility exists that Lyme disease can be a food infection. In humans, the symptoms of Lyme disease, which manifest themselves days to years after the onset of infection, may involve the skin, cardiac, nervous and/or muscular systems, and so misdiagnosis can occur.