Chronic Lyme Disease
Chronic Lyme disease, a controversial subject among scientists, doctors, patients, HMOs and insurance companies, is garnering a lot of public attention. Virtually unknown before 1977, the bacterial disease transmitted by a bite from a black-legged deer tick carrying the bacterium borrelia burgdorferi now has its own print journal, resource website, alliance, radio program and national grassroots fundraising campaign.
This surge of activity, largely begun since 1982, appears justifiable, as an estimated 300,000 people in the U.S. are believed to be suffering from a condition that was initially considered an outbreak of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in and around Lyme, Connecticut.
Although awareness is increasing, transmission is rising. As disputes persist over whether the illness can become chronic, thousands of individuals with relapsing fevers, lingering fatigue, joint pain, headaches, neurological symptoms and cognitive impairment associated with the disease continue to suffer.
A late-stage Lyme patient and co-founder of LymeAid4Kids (Tinyurl.com/LymeAid4Kids), Amy Tan, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club, points out that physicians play down late-stage cases, which require intensive, long-term treatment, insisting that the disease is always cured with a simple round of antibiotics. Tan, whose organization pays for the diagnosis and treatment of uninsured children with Lyme, disagrees with the dismissive prognosis, as does Katina Makris, host of Lyme Light Radio and author of Out of the Woods: Healing Lyme Disease—Body Mind and Spirit. After experiencing a mysterious flu, Makris, a classical homeopath and healthcare columnist, spent the next five years in physical and mental torment before she was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. “I was bedridden for two years, so the diagnosis was just the beginning of my 10-year journey to healing,” says Makris, whose book is part recovery memoir and part resource guide for alternative medical, emotional and spiritual support.
Tan and Makris also agree on a major problem in diagnosing Lyme—it evades detection by standard blood tests for bacterial antigens and antibodies. “The ELISA test is only accurate between two weeks and two months after the tick bite,” says Makris, who notes that the Western Blot test is somewhat more accurate, while the IGeneX is superior. Makris also emphasizes the importance of choosing the best laboratory. “Clongen Laboratories and Advanced Laboratory Services are highly regarded,” she says
Richard I Horowitz, M.D., specializes in internal medicine. The author of Why Can’t I Get Better?: Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease, he raises another red flag for detection—the existence of coinfections that are often transmitted along with Lyme. Because testing for coinfections is often as unreliable as it is for Lyme, they also frequently go undiagnosed. According to Horowitz, coinfections were not adequately accounted for in four major scientific trials that attempted to explain why Lyme symptoms persist even after antibiotic treatment. The trial conclusions—that antibiotics are not effective in eliminating chronic Lyme disease—are not surprising, given that the antibiotics tested do not address all of the infecting organisms now frequently found in ticks.
Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections, clarifies two factors that have stimulated the emergence of potent bacterial disease organisms found in tick saliva—the tremendous overuse of antibiotics over the past 70 years and the increasing damage to wild landscapes, intrusions into forest ecosystems, the cutting of those same forests, the reduction of wild predator populations and the increase in deer, mice, and insect populations.
“As fewer wild animal populations are available as hosts for the bacterial diseases that once were (mostly) limited to those populations, the bacteria have no choice but to jump species and find new hosts,” says Buhner, who also advises that various bacteria are teaching each other how to resist antibiotics and how to more easily infect people. Also, what they do together in the body is a great deal more complex than what any one of them does alone, making them very difficult to treat. Bartonella species, like many infectious bacteria, utilize the immune system of whatever mammal they infect as part of their infection strategy. Any existing inflammation, such as arthritis, actually facilitates the growth of bartonella.
Due to the synergistic nature of coinfections, the weaker or more compromised the immune system, the more likely someone is to become infected and more likely they are to have a debilitating course of illness. Improving the immune system allows it to do what it does best—identify the outer membrane proteins of the bacteria and create antibodies against them, which can take from four to eight months.
Linda Sechrist is the senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings. Visit ItsAllAboutWe.com.
Better Safe than Sorry with Lyme Disease
by Lynne C. Belsky, M.D.
Lyme disease is on the rise in our region of the Midwest. Lake County, IL, reported 20 cases through the end of July 2013, which is greater than the record of 19 in 2011. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has warned that cases nationwide are extremely underreported, and the 30,000 cases that were registered last year may be closer to 300,000.
The biggest concern is that people often don’t see the tiny tick that transmits the disease, and that the classic bull’s-eye rash does not always appear. Symptoms from the bacteria burrelia burdorferi include fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, headache, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes (early); numbness and pain in arms or legs, paralysis of facial muscles and meningitis (early disseminated, weeks to months after a tick bite); and chronic Lyme arthritis, memory loss and difficulty concentrating, chronic muscular pain and sleep difficulties (late, even weeks, months or years later; occurs in patients that did not receive adequate antibiotic treatment during the early phase of Lyme disease).
Prevention is the best way to avoid Lyme disease. Follow the guidelines proposed by the CDC: wear long pants tucked into socks and long-sleeved shirts; light-colored clothing allows you to see a tick on the surface; and shower after being outside. It takes a tick 24 hours to attach, so you can wash them off before they do.
If you are bitten, carefully remove the tick by the head with tweezers, and then wash the area with soap and water. Call a doctor about what to do next; a blood test may be necessary, but the tests are not always positive for a few weeks after infection. Pets can get Lyme disease, too. Make sure to examine them closely after a walk to avoid bringing ticks inside.
Dr. Lynne Belsky is a concierge physician at Living Well Medical, 1535 Lake Cook Rd., in Northbrook. For more information, call 847-418-2030 or visit LivingWellMD.com.