As reported by The Block Island Times, June 17, 2008.

Lyme Level, Babesiosis Up

By Chris Barrett

For the 19th year in a row University of Connecticut School of Medicine researchers have traveled to Block Island to collect blood samples from residents, who overall show an unusually high Lyme disease infection rate.

While the goal of the study was not to measure infection rates, Dr. Peter Krause of UConn said the researchers, who include participants from Harvard and Tufts universities, could reach some limited conclusions.

Krause’s team tested about 70 residents Saturday at the island’s medical center and he expected 10 to 20 percent, or seven to 14 people, to show signs of antibodies indicating an infection of Lyme disease within the past year or so. Another five to 10 percent, or three to seven people, will likely show signs of Babesiosis.

Krause said that while the sample was not perfectly representative of the island’s population, one could roughly extrapolate those percentages to the entire year-round population. If his conclusions hold true, about 150 residents have been infected with Lyme disease during the past year or so, and 75 with Babesiosis.

Once the tests are completed in about a month Krause can show, by testing for antibodies IgG and IgM, whether the individual contracted the disease within the past few weeks or the past few months. The study also helps identify unreported cases that went undiagnosed because the people infected showed few symptoms or those that echo the flu.

Krause said island studies over time show the Lyme disease leveling off here, but Babesiosis on the rise. He speculated that could be because Babesiosis, which is spread by ticks that use mice as hosts, is still making its way through the mouse population on the island while Lyme disease has spread everywhere possible.

The university researchers first started studying the island at the invitation of the Block Island Residents Association. Part of a broader study, island residents provide a critical mass to a project that involves testing more than 2,000 people in different parts of the Northeast.

Krause said Block Island is ideal for the study due to its homogenous population and researchers’ ability to track the same individuals from year-to-year. He will also return in the fall to test people again, in hopes that the results narrow the time period when individuals became infected. Krause estimated that 70 percent of Block Island residents have taken part in the study at some point.

Those that participated Saturday were tested for both Lyme disease and Babesiosis and will receive their results in about a month. In the meantime Krause and colleagues will use the data culled from residents to develop new diagnostic and treatment options for both illnesses.

One study will explore why there is a much higher incidence of Babesiosis recorded in elderly people than their younger counterparts; it also appears to make them much sicker. Experiments in mice have shown a genetic defect in older mice that make them more susceptible to Babesiosis. Krause hopes to use the data from Block Island in an attempt to corroborate the results with humans.

That study will build upon an existing library of more than 30 papers generated with data gathered on Block Island. And Krause said he plans to keep coming back and extended his thanks to BIRA, the medical center and volunteers that allow him use of the facilities and help promote the study.