Background: It is unclear whether antimicrobial treatment after an Ixodes scapularis tick bite will prevent Lyme disease.
Methods: In an area of New York where Lyme disease is hyperendemic we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of treatment with a single 200-mg dose of doxycycline in 482 subjects who had removed attached I. scapularis ticks from their bodies within the previous 72 hours. At base line, three weeks, and six weeks, subjects were interviewed and examined, and serum antibody tests were performed, along with blood cultures for Borrelia burgdorferi. Entomologists confirmed the species of the ticks and classified them according to sex, stage, and degree of engorgement.
Results: Erythema migrans developed at the site of the tick bite in a significantly smaller proportion of the subjects in the doxycycline group than of those in the placebo group (1 of 235 subjects [0.4 percent] vs. 8 of 247 subjects [3.2 percent], P<0.04). The efficacy of treatment was 87 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 25 to 98 percent). Objective extracutaneous signs of Lyme disease did not develop in any subject, and there were no asymptomatic seroconversions. Treatment with doxycycline was associated with more frequent adverse effects (in 30.1 percent of subjects, as compared with 11.1 percent of those assigned to placebo; P<0.001), primarily nausea (15.4 percent vs. 2.6 percent) and vomiting (5.8 percent vs. 1.3 percent). Erythema migrans developed more frequently after untreated bites from nymphal ticks than after bites from adult female ticks (8 of 142 bites [5.6 percent] vs. 0 of 97 bites [0 percent], P=0.02) and particularly after bites from nymphal ticks that were at least partially engorged with blood (8 of 81 bites [9.9 percent], as compared with 0 of 59 bites from unfed, or flat, nymphal ticks [0 percent]; P=0.02).
Conclusions: A single 200-mg dose of doxycycline given within 72 hours after an I. scapularis tick bite can prevent the development of Lyme disease.