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Microbiology of Lyme disease

Alan G Barbour, MD
Section Editor
Allen C Steere, MD
Deputy Editor
Jennifer Mitty, MD, MPH


Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, Canada, and Europe [1-3]. It is a bacterial infection caused by six species in the spirochete family Borreliaceae. The taxonomy of these spirochetes is undergoing revision, and the genus name may be represented as either Borrelia or Borreliella. In either case, the abbreviation for the genus is "B" and stands for both terminologies in the discussion below.

In North America, infection is caused primarily by B. burgdorferi and, less commonly, in a region of the upper mid-West, by B. mayonii. In Europe and Asia, infection is caused primarily by either B. afzelii or B. garinii, less commonly by B. burgdorferi, and rarely by B. spielmanii or B. bavariensis.

In nature, the reservoirs for these organisms are small mammals and birds, not deer. Humans acquire the infection from the bite of an infected tick of the genus Ixodes. The infection begins in the skin at the site of the tick bite. From there, the spirochetes may disseminate in the blood to other tissues and organs. The usual manifestations of Lyme disease involve the skin, joints, heart, and nervous system.

The microbiology of Lyme disease will be reviewed here. Issues related to immunopathogenesis, epidemiology, prevention, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and therapy of Lyme disease are discussed separately.

(See "Epidemiology of Lyme disease".)

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 28, 2017.
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