On any ranked list of nasty diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas in the Western world, Borrelia burgdorferi, would have to lie near the top. These bacteria cause Lyme disease, which was first recognised in the US in the early 1970s among patients in Lyme, Connecticut. However, the oldest known case was the Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old Copper-age mummified individual, discovered in the Italian Alps.
Lyme disease is one of the fastest growing vector-borne diseases in the Western world – the threat it poses has become increasingly apparent in recent years. Estimates suggest that more than 300,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the US and more than 65,000 cases a year are diagnosed in Europe. However, the true number of people affected is probably underestimated due to under-reporting and the limitations of current diagnostic tests.