Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is tremendously difficult to diagnose and subsequently treat. This complex condition is perhaps one of the most underdiagnosed diseases in the United States. Poor recognition and awareness of this disease is in part due to a widespread lack of understanding and familiarity with Lyme.
Increasing individual knowledge of Lyme may help reduce the occurrence rate, improve diagnosis, and promote more effective treatment. The following Lyme facts explain various aspects of the condition that everyone should know.
1. Lyme is caused by a bacterial infection of Borrelia Burgdorferi. These spiral-shaped bacteria known as a spirochete affect multiple organs resulting in a wide range of symptoms including: fatigue, neck stiffness or pain, jaw discomfort, muscle and joint pain, swollen glands, memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, vision problems, digestive issues, headaches, and lightheadedness or fainting. Most Lyme patients experience lingering and sometimes debilitating symptoms long after treatment has concluded.
2. Lyme is known as “the great imitator” and is frequently misdiagnosed as other chronic conditions including: fibromyalgia, Arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Bells’ Palsy, ADD, MS, Lupus, and ALS. More advanced cases of Lyme often present symptoms similar to those associated with these conditions and may even promote the development of other chronic disorders.
3. Lyme is most frequently transmitted by tick bites. Because these poppy seed-sized organisms are easily overlooked, it is quite easy to be exposed to or be bitten by them without knowing it. Transmission of Lyme from carrier to host can occur in just a couple of minutes. The risk of transmission increases the longer the tick is attached. Transmission is even more likely if removal of the tick is not done correctly.
4. The most recognizable indicator of Lyme disease is a bull’s-eye rash that develops soon after a tick bites through the skin. Although it is touted as a primary symptom, this form of Lyme-related rash is less common than other non-descript rashes that may develop. Even though this is one of the primary indicators of Lyme, less than 50% of patients develop the hallmark bull’s-eye rash or recall being bitten.
5. Many cases of Lyme are asymptotic and only cause issues long after the disease is transferred through a bite. Symptoms may take months, years, or decades to become apparent.
6. Lyme has a global presence meaning that infection can occur almost anywhere. Every continent except Antarctica has reported cases of Lyme. In the United States specifically, Lyme has been found in every state except Hawaii. Because ticks can be easily carried long distances and transported by people, pets, or other animals, everyone is it risk of Lyme regardless of where they live.
7. Typically, doctors recommend using the ELISA test to diagnose Lyme. However, this method has been shown to miss 35% of Lyme positive cultures. The means that the ELISA is only 65% accurate when it comes to identifying Lyme in patients. An effective disease screening should be at least 95% accurate. The IgG and IgM Western Blot tests are more accurate methods of testing for Lyme.
8. It is best to test for as many strains of Lyme as possible if there is concern of an infection. Borrelia Burgdorferi has 5 subspecies with more than 100 strains in the U.S and at least 300 found globally. Overlooking a strain of borrelia may result in an incorrect diagnosis of wellness allowing the patient to go untreated and experience chronic Lyme in the future. Currently, there are no tests available that can accurately indicate the complete eradication or resolution of Lyme after a patient has been treated.
9. The standard method for treating Lyme is through an extended course of antibiotics. This treatment is more effective the earlier it is employed. However, in many cases, antibiotics alone are not enough to effectively treat Lyme. If not supported with appropriate lifestyle changes and supplementation, antibiotic treatments may cause patients to experience greater immune dysfunction and develop post-Lyme syndrome or chronic Lyme.
10. Lyme is tremendously challenging to treat because borrelia is able to transform into various forms that make it resilient to certain types of treatment. Borrelia bacteria can shift between standard cell wall form, non-cell wall (L-form), or an incredibly resilient cyst form. When the Lyme cells recognize the presence of antibiotics, they convert into the L or cyst forms, which are not affected by antibiotic applications. To combat this, physicians have begun adapting a pulsed or “on and off” method for treating Lyme. The initial course of antibiotics triggers the bacteria’s defenses. Instead of continuing treatment, antibiotics are then ceased for a number of weeks, which gives the bacteria time to lower their defenses. During this cellular transition, antibiotics are administered again. Ideally, this catches bacteria off guard and inhibits their ability to combat the treatment. This alternating approach takes a long time but typically has greater results than single course of long-term antibiotics.
11. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that nearly 330,000 new cases of Lyme develop annually in the United States. Because of limited diagnosis and poor testing practices, some Lyme experts believe that this number may actually be between one to two million. Even though there are 6 times as many new cases of Lyme than HIV/AIDS annually, research, treatment, and prevention for Lyme receives little funding. In part, this is because Lyme is not a prominent issue in the public eye even though it impacts a large portion of the population.
Leaving Lyme Behind
Lyme is a complex condition composed of many different variables and factors. It is important to be familiar with different aspects such as methods of transmission, occurrence rate, symptoms, and treatment methods. This quick list of Lyme facts provides an introduction to and basic overview of some of the condition’s many facets. Of course, there is much more to Lyme than what is discussed here. Hopefully as awareness and understanding of Lyme disease increases, the occurrence rate will fall, diagnosis will improve, and treatment will be optimized.
1. Basic Information About Lyme Disease. ILADS. http://www.ilads.org/lyme/about-lyme.php
2. Ten Facts About Lyme Disease. Lyme Light Foundation. https://lymelightfoundation.org/about-lyme/ten-things-you-should-know-about-lyme-disease/
3. Join the Lyme Disease Challenge. Lyme Disease Challenge. http://lymediseasechallenge.org/join-lyme-disease-challenge/