— In the above image, Lyme disease spirochete (spiral bacteria), an obligate parasite that cycles between ticks and vertebrate hosts is identified beneath a microscope.
Lyme disease, the bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted via the bite of tick, is one of the most controversial diseases in the U.S. and around the world. It’s even comparable to the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s. Some doctors still believe a short two- or four-week course of antibiotics is effective in treating the infection. They say Lyme is both hard to get and easy to treat. This is far from the truth. In fact, Lyme is the fastest growing infectious disease, with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimating that upwards of 300,000 people contract the disease every year in the U.S. alone.
And it certainly isn’t controversial for the countless people suffering. It is a real, often chronic, and prolonged experience. Lyme disease causes a myriad of symptoms, including, but not limited to, extreme fatigue and malaise, joint and muscle pain, chest pain, neck pain, vision and hearing impairment, headache, memory loss, heart palpitations, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and depression. It affects all the major organ systems in the body, even invading the central nervous system and passing through the blood-brain barrier.
Lyme often presents as flu-like symptoms early on, making it hard to detect even for doctors. And many patients never see the tick bite or the telltale bullseye rash. It was once considered one of the most common symptoms, and often necessary for diagnosis, but many patients never get it.
Lyme is often called the “Great Imitator,” as it has often been misdiagnosed as ALS, MS, Lupus, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, and many other neurological and often untreatable disorders or diseases. And Lyme doesn’t always come as a single-package deal for those diagnosed. A tick can pass on a host of other coinfections, most notably Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms vary widely with these coinfections, and when a patient is diagnosed with multiple infections, it can create a complicated disease state that proves extremely hard to treat.
The most common tests for Lyme disease, the ELISA and Western blot, detect and measure antibodies—an indirect way of showing a patient’s immune system reacting to a pathogen. Yet, it has been proven Lyme often hinders immune response, often making these tests unreliable. This is compounded by the fact that for a person to be positive for Lyme disease under CDC standards, they must present as positive with five of ten specific bands on the Western blot. These standards have gone unchanged since their implementation in 1993, and criticism has often been levied at these overly strict and antiquated requirements.
Additionally, there is no definitive test to prove someone has been cured. Ultimately, Lyme disease and coinfections should be a clinical diagnosis by a doctor who understands the nature of these diseases.
If you or a loved one is suffering, help, support, and resources are out there. A list of Lyme-literate doctors (LLMDs) who can properly diagnose and treat chronic Lyme disease and related infections is available upon request from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS)—found here.
Local support is also available. The Lyme Disease Support Group of the Eastern Panhandle would like to rekindle physical meetings and is looking for community feedback. Please contact Kelly Edmonds at email@example.com for more information.