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Articles by Dr. Tesluk

VACCINE NOT A PANACEA FOR LYME DISEASE
 

Dr. Stephen Tesluk, DVM

 

“She was fine this morning, Doc; now, well just look at her,” Mr. Anderson said, shaking his head.  His companion Maggie was her usual energetic self when they went to work together at the orchard.  Maggie had gone off for a walk while Mr. Anderson took care of some business.  An hour or so later when they got back together, he noticed Maggie was limping slightly – her right leg was bothering her.

            He wondered if Maggie, his 6-year-old Border Collie, had been hit by one of the trucks in the orchard that morning, but he could find no cuts or bruises.  He kept Maggie close while he finished his business, and was shocked to see Maggie start to limp on all four legs.  She acted as if she was walking across broken glass.  By the afternoon, Maggie did not want to move at all and Mr. Anderson brought her in to the clinic.

            Maggie stood on the table with her head down, ears down and back arched.  She shifted her weight from front to back and right to left, searching in vain for a comfortable position.  There were no signs of trauma on her body, her heart rate was normal, her lungs clear, her abdomen soft and not painful, and her temperature was normal.  She was uncomfortable when her joints were flexed, but they were not swollen.

            I discussed the possible causes of Maggie’s sudden onset of shifting-leg lameness with Mr. Anderson.  She was not hit by a truck, there were no signs of trauma; there were no toxins at use in the orchard that could cause these signs.  I explained to him that Maggie could have an infection in her joints, or her body’s own defenses could be attacking her joints by mistake. 

            “You know,” I told him, “This is actually a classic presentation for Lyme disease in dogs, and we certainly have the ticks which carry Lyme in the area, but I had only heard of one clinical case of Lyme disease reported in the Rogue Valley in the last 5 years.”

            Maggie was also wearing a tick collar and she had been vaccinated for Lyme disease for each of the last four years.  “It might be a stretch, but I have a bench top test for Lyme disease that will only take 5 minutes, why don’t we rule out Lyme so we can consider the other possibilities?”

            Mr. Anderson agreed, so we drew a blood sample and ran the test.  Within three minutes a blue dot appeared on the test indication Maggie in fact did have Lyme disease.

            “The good news is that this infection should respond quickly to the proper antibiotics,” I said.

            “How could she get Lyme after all those vaccines, plus she wears a tick collar?” asked Mr. Anderson.

            “Well, in areas back east that have large numbers of Lyme cases, unvaccinated dogs have twice the rate of Lyme disease seen in vaccinated dogs.  But the vaccines are not 100 percent effective; vaccinated animals can and do develop Lyme disease, and tick collars can lose effectiveness under certain conditions.”

            “Does it always affect them this way?”

            “Some dogs become infected and don’t show any signs, many act like Maggie – sore and lame, and rarely, Lyme causes Kidney damage, with depression, increased thirst and vomiting as the main signs.”

            “What about my kids, Doc – can they get Lyme disease from Maggie?”

            “No, Maggie cannot infect you or your kids, it’s likely that the infected tick bit Maggie many weeks ago, and the ticks tend not to transfer from one host to another.”

            Maggie went home with a three-week prescription of antibiotics, and Mr. Anderson was to monitor her clinical signs.  Lyme disease responds rapidly to antibiotic therapy; if the diagnosis is correct, the lameness should show improvement within three days.  By the next afternoon Maggie had improved significantly.  Fortunately, Maggie’s urine did not have high protein levels, the sign of kidney improvement. 

            I let Mr. Anderson know he should continue to use a tick collar or topical tick preventative, but I also suggested he check Maggie at the end of each day for ticks.   After a tick with Lyme gets on a dog, it takes between 24 and 48 hours of feeding to transmit the organism – daily grooming could significantly lower any dog’s risk.  Finally, one could argue that since Lyme disease can be diagnosed quickly and responds well to treatment, a vaccine that is not completely effective may not be necessary.

            Mr. Anderson would probably agree.




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