A vaccine for Lyme disease is close to reality, according to scientists.
Researchers say that a jab for the tick-born infection that can cause killer complications such as meningitis is coming nearer.
Hundreds of thousands of people contract the disease, which can also cause facial paralysis, every year.
Researchers met to discuss the health crisis and plan the upcoming vaccine.
Study senior author Dr Steven Schutzer, a physician-scientist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in the US, said: “Countermeasures such as vaccines are needed to stem the growing number of cases per year.
“This is extremely important because you can get Lyme disease more than once.”
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. The only preventative measure currently available to humans is “guidance” for avoiding tick bites.
The ineffectiveness of this strategy is suggested by the estimated 300,000 diagnosed cases of Lyme disease that occur annually in the United States, along with more than 100,000 in Europe.
If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, hearts and nervous system.
Lead author Dr Maria Gomes-Solecki, a researcher at University of Tennessee, said: “We can envision the development of hybrid vaccine strategies targeted both to the offending microbe and to its tick carrier to prevent Lyme disease.
“It is a two-prong approach.”
Dr Rebecca Leshan, executive director of the Banbury Centre in the US, said she is seeing “significant outcomes” to discussions on the disease.
She added: “I expect the concepts laid out in the current paper will also have a real impact and help people at risk for Lyme disease.”
The findings were published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.