The tick-borne disease has been on the rise, thanks to growing deer populations in many areas. Lyme disease cases in Nova Scotia, for example, nearly tripled in 2013 from the prior year.
"In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitoes," noted George Poinar, Jr., professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, in a press release.
"(Ticks) can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors," Poinar said. "It's likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease."
The oldest known case of Lyme disease was found in a 5,300-year-old Tyrolean "iceman" mummy from the Italian Alps.
"Before he was frozen in the glacier, the iceman was probably already in misery from Lyme disease," Poinar said.
The OSU findings were published in the journal Historical Biology.