To elucidate pathogen-host interactions during early Lyme disease, we developed a mathematical model that explains the spatiotemporal dynamics of the characteristic first sign of the disease, a large (≥5-cm diameter) rash, known as an erythema migrans. The model predicts that the bacterial replication and dissemination rates are the primary factors controlling the speed that the rash spreads, whereas the rate that active macrophages are cleared from the dermis is the principle determinant of rash morphology. In addition, the model supports the clinical observations that antibiotic treatment quickly clears spirochetes from the dermis and that the rash appearance is not indicative of the efficacy of the treatment. The quantitative agreement between our results and clinical data suggest that this model could be used to develop more efficient drug treatments and may form a basis for modeling pathogen-host interactions in other emerging infectious diseases.
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