The impact of these co-infections if left untreated may include changes in physical and mental function, chronic health issues, and in some cases even fatality. Lyme disease itself is a serious condition but its frequent pairing with co-infections may pose an even greater threat to wellness.
A Quick Look at Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a chronic illness with an impressive reputation for being difficult to diagnose and treat. The disease is caused by infection of a spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, which has unique properties allowing it avoid detection and maintain impressive resiliency to treatment.
Lyme causes notable dysfunction that may include hormone imbalances, immune disorders, and neurological issues, all of which may contribute to the development of even greater malfunction and chronic disease.
Typically, Lyme is spread to humans through the bite of an infected tick. Although less common, other vectors such as mosquitos and fleas may also carry Borrelia burgdorferi and spread Lyme disease. These carriers may also harbor other bacteria, viruses, or fungi. When an animal carrying Lyme and other infectious substances bites a human, all of the pathogens are introduced into the victim’s bloodstream. This is the primary manner in which Lyme co-infections are transferred to humans.
Lyme Disease and Its Co-Infections
Until recently, it was believed that co-infections were a rare occurrence. However, new data suggests that Lyme co-infections are actually very common. One study found that up to 53% of Lyme patients were confirmed to have at least one co-infection and 30% of patients presented two or more co-infections. Due to their high occurrence rate and notable impact on wellness, it is essential that both patients and doctors be familiar with common co-infections of Lyme.
Babesia is a parasite similar to malaria. Both fall into the category of piroplasm, which are organisms that infect red blood cells. Infection of babesia is called babesiosis and is the most common Lyme co-infection as well as the most common piroplasm infection among humans.
Like Lyme, babesia may be transferred via tick. However, it can also be transmitted from mother to unborn child through the transfusion of contaminated blood. This quality makes babesia an exceptionally sinister threat.
Symptoms of babesiosis share several similarities with Lyme. However, it may be distinguished with an initially high fever and chills. Progression of the infection brings with it the following symptoms:
- Drenching sweats
- Muscle aches
- Chest pain
- Hip pain
- Shortness of breath or air hunger
Fortunately, symptoms of babesiosis tend to be mild and non-life-threatening. However, the mildness of the symptoms also means that the condition is often overlooked until symptoms become more severe.
Bartonellosis is caused by an infection of bartonella bacteria. These harmful disruptors are capable of infecting a wide array of organisms. Bartonella is most commonly spread by fleas, ticks, and lice.
Bartonellosis promotes several symptoms, with a streak-like rash perhaps being the most indicative of the specific infection. Other symptoms of bartonellosis include:
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen glands
- Neurological issues
- Blurred vision
- Numbness in the extremities
- Balance issues
- Psychiatric manifestations
Until recently, it was believed that cases of bartonellosis tended to be mild, acute, and had little risk of contributing to further disruption. However, doctors have started finding that bartonella may result in chronic infection. It is now believed that bartonellosis allows bartonella bacteria to periodically cycle through red blood cells, which can prompt relapse or worsening of the condition.
Rickettsia is a classification of several bacteria including those responsible for many different forms of serious infection. Rickettsia may be transferred by common carriers of Lyme and other disease. This include organisms such as lice, fleas, mites, chiggers, and ticks. The most common type of rickettsial infection in the United States is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or RMSF.
RMSF may be identified by a spotted rash that begins at the wrist or ankles. This irritation may spread from these regions in a seemingly ordered manner. Most symptoms associated with RMSF are typical of Lyme co-infections including:
- High fever
- Abdominal pain
Cases of RMSF can range in severity from mild to fatal. Those most at risk of dying from RMSF are individuals under the age of 4, over the age of 60, or those with compromised immune function. Perhaps the most threatening quality of RMSF is that it weakens blood vessels in the body, thereby increasing the risk of blood vessel damage. Damaged blood vessels are more likely to transport bacteria to the heart and brain, which may result in fatality.
Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis
Bacterial infections of anaplasma and ehrlichia fall into the same category of ehrlichiosis. Disease found in the ehrlichiosis category are typically transferred by specific ticks including the Ixodes tick and lone star tick.
Symptoms of ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis are shared between the two conditions. Those with an infection of one or both strains of bacteria tend to develop symptoms suddenly. Most often, symptoms of ehrlichiosis infection begin with the following:
- High fever
- Muscle aches
Depending on the patient’s health, symptoms of ehrlichiosis may be mild or potentially life threatening. Those most at risk are individuals with low white blood cell count, low platelet count, anemia, increased liver enzymes, and those with kidney or respiratory issues.
Keep Watch for Lyme Co-Infections
Lyme disease is a powerful illness that requires significant effort to effectively diagnose and treat. However, a potentially greater threat may exist in the form of Lyme co-infections. Patients suffering from Lyme are likely to suffer from additional co-infections of various bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Despite their impressive impact on health, Lyme co-infections often go unnoticed for exceptionally long periods of time which can result in greater dysfunction and symptom severity.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to utilize cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to uncover and address both Lyme disease and its co-infections. If you are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease or if you’ve been diagnosed with Lyme, but aren’t getting the treatment you need, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!
Learn more about Lyme disease, its symptoms and your treatment options in our FREE Treating Lyme Disease e-book.[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]
1. ILADS. ” International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.” https://www.ilads.org/
2. LDA. “Lyme Disease Association, Inc.” https://lymediseaseassociation.org/
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4. Johnson, L. et al. “Severity of Chronic Lyme Disease Compared to Other Chronic Conditions: A Quality of Life Survey.” PeerJ, DOI 10.7717/peerj.322.
5. Sperling, Jlh et al. “Evolving perspectives on lyme borreliosis in Canada.” The open neurology journal vol. 6 (): 94-103.
6. Lorraine Johnson, JD, MBA. “Study Finds Coinfections in Lyme Disease Common.” Lymedisease.org.