Antibody Testing and Lyme Disease Risk

Elizabeth G. Stone; Eleanor H. Lacombe; Peter W. Rand


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2005;11(5):722-724. 

In This Article


This study demonstrates how canine serosurveys using the IDEXX 3Dx test can serve as an active surveillance system for potential human Lyme disease risk. This method overcomes the limitations of human Lyme disease reporting systems by relying on routine screening of populations of healthy dogs to calculate true seroprevalence rates. In this study, a large volume of data from across the state was generated for the most extensive and detailed measure of regional Lyme disease risk in Maine to date. In contrast, passive human Lyme disease surveillance during the previous 2 years yields cases from < 90 towns, approximately two thirds of which had only 1 or 2 cases.

Canine seroprevalence rates were congruent with I. scapularis submissions and human Lyme disease reports during a 2-year period when dogs could have been infected, reinforcing the effectiveness of this method for predicting geographic human risk. One previous study has calculated canine seroprevalence rates in Maine,[6] but a different assay technique was used,[4] which limited our ability to compare those rates to those of the current study. In spite of substantial agreement between canine seroprevalence and rates of tick submissions, mapping of canine seroprevalence data shows high-risk foci in inland areas that were not previously identified by 14 years of tick submissions to the Vector-borne Disease Laboratory or from human Lyme disease reporting to the Bureau of Health; this suggests that canine serosurveys may identify new areas of disease transmission. These are areas of low human population density, and repeat surveys may demonstrate the value of canine serosurveillance in detecting disease spread where human populations are low.

Mapping of pooled data on a regional scale allows geographic patterns of disease to be viewed. Most notably, our data show a concentration of infected dogs in southern and coastal areas. Patterns of infection are suggested in inland areas as well. The significance of these patterns with respect to environmental variables favoring disease transmission is unknown but could be clarified by comparing prevalence rates with patterns of land use, deer herd density, habitat, and other ecologic attributes.

The widespread acceptance of the IDEXX 3Dx test facilitates the use of canine serosurveys for public health. In many Maine veterinary offices, virtually every dog tested for heartworm in the spring is tested for B. burgdorferi antibody; however, well below 100% of canine patients are vaccinated against Lyme disease. Test results can be collected opportunistically from collaborating veterinarians with minimal effort. Previous serosurveys have involved much more intensive effort because of the need for veterinarians to collect extra blood samples. The ease of data collection based on this manner of testing enhances real-time as well as long-term monitoring of disease. Furthermore, the large volumes of test results generated from routine B. burgdorferi screening, and the ability to collect information on dog residence, make large-scale studies of disease geography possible. That we did not exclude in our analyses dogs that have traveled suggests that caution should be used when considering the importance of low prevalence rates or prevalence rates calculated from low sample sizes. However, our finding of dozens of towns with 0% prevalence suggests that the effect of dogs that have traveled on calculated seroprevalence rates is small.


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