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Tick bites weaken the skin’s immune response

Ixodes ricinus, Photo by: W.alter via Wikimedia Commons

A new study from the Medical University of Vienna has determined that tick saliva inhibits the skin’s defences, increasing the risk of diseases such as tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease. According to the researchers, this discovery helps explain how and why tick bites can lead to the development of serious disease. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

A research team led by Johanna Strobl and Georg Stary from MedUni Vienna’s Department of Dermatology used skin samples from volunteers and models of human skin, mimicking the bite of the most common European tick (Ixodes ricinus). They found that contact with tick saliva caused rapidly occurring patterns of immunomodulation, including disruption of T cell function.

They made similar observations in the early stages of infection by Borrelia burgdorferi, the most common cause of Lyme disease.

“Overall, we found that tick feeding causes profound changes in the skin’s immune system inhibiting the local immune response. This means that dangerous pathogens that are introduced into the skin together with tick saliva, can multiply more easily, leading to infection,” lead author Dr. Strobl reported in a press release.

The researchers noted that climate change increases the danger from ticks since they have now been identified in new areas and at higher altitudes.


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