Lyme Disease, Lymme or Lime Disease. It’s Nasty And Spreading Fast
Lyme disease, Lymme or Lime disease? Call it what you want. It’s nasty and quickly becoming one of the most infectious diseases in America. Over the past 25 years, reports of Lyme disease have steadily increased, with an estimated 300,000 cases annually. The number of U.S. counties now considered to be of high incidence for Lyme disease has increased by more than 300% in the North-Eastern states and by approximately 250% in the North-Central states. Studies indicate that Lyme disease costs approximately $1.3 billion each year in direct medical costs alone in the United States. The disease is 6 to 10 times more prevalent than HIV, 20 times higher than Hepatitis and 30 times higher than TB.
Explosion of Lyme Disease Cases is due to Human Activity
Scientists attribute this explosion of Lyme disease cases in recent decades to human activity and the impact of this on the environment. Katharine Walter of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and her team led a study into the disease. By reconstructing the evolutionary history of Borrelia burgdorferi, these scientists found that this diversity, dates back to 60,000 years in North America.
An Endemic Epidemic?
They say the epidemic of human Lyme disease has been fuelled by ecological change and not by evolutionary changes in the bacteria. This is due to disruption from human activity, increased deforestation, hunting, and climate change. All these factors influenced the movement of Lyme-hosting birds and mammals. Warmer winters have accelerated the ticks’ life cycles. This has also allowed them to survive an estimated 28 miles further north each year.
Where does it get its name from?
The tick was discovered in the old town of Lyme, Connecticut, in 1976. Indeed, since 2007, Connecticut municipalities in Windham, Tolland and New London counties have experienced the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the US.
This Disease Is Spreading and is Now Present in New U.S. States
However, the people of Lyme are no longer alone. The number of positive tests for Lyme disease increased significantly between 2016 and 2017. It has been historically concentrated in Pennsylvania and New England states, but has now been detected in each of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia.
Cases of Lyme Disease Have More Than Tripled Since 1995
Yes, this black legged tick is on the move. Expanding rapidly as they come across smaller mobile animals like mice and robins, which make for useful hosts.
How Do You Know If You Have Lyme Disease?
Not all species of ticks carry the bacteria. Usually you can tell you have been bitten as a distinctive bulls-eye mark forms on the skin. However, it does not appear in every instance. If bitten, you should visit a doctor immediately. You may also experience flu-like symptoms or joint pains in the first month after the bite. Later detection includes an array of more concerning symptoms such as neuronal dysfunction, spinal inflammation, loss of muscle tone in the face and arthritis. Dr Joseph Burrascano has compiled a useful and extensive 3 page table of symptoms and a diagnosis checklist.
The Disease is Growing
Dr. Raphael Stricker, an internist and hematologist, is the co-principal investigator of the MyLymeData project. Addressing a board meeting at LymeDisease.org, he raised concerns about the disease and its impact on the community. A MyLymeData study looked at the difficulty that patients experience receiving diagnosis and treatment. 65% of patients with chronic Lyme disease have had to cut back or quit work or school and 25% have been on disability.
Is Lyme Disease also an STD?
The spread of the disease by wild animals and birds continues unabated. If this wasn’t enough to throw a spanner in the Lyme works, concerns were raised about other ways in which the disease could spread when a study suggested it could be sexually transmitted. The 2014 study was presented at the annual Western Regional Meeting of the American Federation for Medical Research, and an abstract of the research was published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
The controversial findings come after a bacterium that was found in patients with Lyme disease was also found in people who they had sexual relations with. Bb bacteria was also found in both male and female secretions. In the study, researchers tested semen samples and vaginal secretions from three groups of patients: control subjects without evidence of Lyme disease, random subjects who tested positive for Lyme disease, and married heterosexual couples engaging in unprotected sex who tested positive for the disease.
The researchers confirmed that the likelihood of sexual transmission of the Lyme spirochete remains speculative. Regardless, the findings have been the source of much debate in the scientific community. Despite this, the possibility of Lyme disease transmission via intimate human contact merits further study.
The CDC has stated on its website: “There is no evidence that Lyme disease is transmitted from person-to-person. For example, a person cannot get infected from touching, kissing, or having sex with a person who has Lyme disease.”
Although Stricker is quoted as saying, “There is always some risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite in the woods. But there may be a greater risk of getting Lyme disease in the bedroom.”
What about Vaccines for Lyme Disease?
Well there was a vaccine. The Lyme vaccine was approved and became available in 1988 after a 10,000-subject clinical trial. It was called LYMErix. The vaccine worked by introducing an antibody that those who had been infected with Lyme disease were immune to. The vaccine ingested this protein. Once injected, it warded off any traces of Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria once it entered the system after a tick bite. Three injections a year are needed.
However, studies began to show that over 20 percent of people that had taken the vaccine were still able to contract the disease. The vaccine was also not able to protect those from all variations of Lyme disease.
The Demise of the Lyme Disease Vaccine
Worse still, during the vaccine’s trial period, the FDA noted that the vaccine could cause Lyme Arthritis. All these issues contributed to the failure to sell the vaccine.
Testing for Lyme Disease
There has also been controversy around the testing for the disease. According to a 2018 Working Group Report to Congress, “available diagnostic tests can be inaccurate and complex to interpret, especially during the earliest stages of infection when treatment is most effective. Unlike in other infectious disease settings, tests to directly measure the presence of the infecting organism, such as culture or tissue biopsies, are not available for tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease. This leaves physicians without the tools needed to diagnose; and without anaccurate diagnosis, it is challenging for physicians to provide early treatment.”
Dr. Stricker explains that the current tests available only have a sensitivity of 46%, so they miss out a lot and in non-endemic areas tests come in as low as 22%, so two-tier testing is not worthwhile. This is well below test for other conditions like HIV, which has a 99% sensitivity. He says there are better tests available but are not yet available to the medical community.
Will Antibiotics Work?
When the disease is caught in its early stages and treated with antibiotics, it’s curable. However, the longer an infection goes untreated, the more severe the symptoms and damage can become.
However, some patients experience symptoms for much longer. Scientists are not entirely sure why some patients experience recurrent symptoms of the illness in the months or even years following treatment. This is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
John D. Scott, MSc Research Scientist, Fergus, Ontaria, says the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, sequesters and hides beneath deep-seated tissue such as ligaments, tendons, bones, the brain, eyes, and scar tissue. He calls it a stealth pathogen which is persistent in the body and hard to treat.
“On one hand, there’s a sea of ignorance within the medical profession and an ongoing denial by doctors that this tick-borne zoonosis exists. On the other hand, there is a concentration camp full of patients who can’t get prompt diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, the majority of patients become chronic, and can’t go to school or can’t work”
Dr Stricker cites other studies in humans that have shown that Lyme disease persists despite treatment. A significant study showed that of over 63% of the treated cases studied, around two-thirds of Lyme disease patients had failed to respond to conventional antibiotic therapy.
Your Genetics May Influence Your Recovery
Timothy Sellati, chair of the infectious diseases department at Southern Research in Alabama, has been exploring whether genetics plays a role in who recovers after treatment and who doesn’t. “We have some evidence that your genetic make-up can predispose you to developing post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.” It will require more research. He believes their research might be able to isolate genetic markers that will tell doctors if antibiotics alone will work, or if the patient might need additional treatment.
This is Not Just a Nuisance Disease, it’s a Nasty Disease
Lyme disease is not a nuisance disease. Stricker says it is worse than many other debilitating illnesses, like MS, Lupus and Depression.
A MyLymeData project study examined health-related quality of life using standard Health Related Quality of Life questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies. It compared the quality of life in Lyme disease patients with the quality of life of people in the general population and people with other chronic illnesses. The study found that chronic Lyme disease results in a poorer quality of life than most other chronic illnesses. This includes congestive heart failure, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
A Decline in Quality of Life
It also found that patients who visited the emergency room had more physician visits and more overnight stays in the hospital than the general population. Many patients were unable to work or to concentrate while at work. The study was published in PeerJ, a peer-reviewed journal in 2014 and has been downloaded over 4,000 times.
In the documentary, Under Our Skin, a Lyme disease sufferer summed up the disease like this:
“Lyme disease usually doesn’t kill you, it just makes you wish you were dead.”
Focus on Preventing Lyme Disease
Prevention is critical for people living in high risk areas. Wear appropriate protective clothing when outdoors, hiking or walking in infested areas. Always follow basic steps like thorough bodily examinations and shower after you have been outdoors. Use appropriate insect repellents and other products to expel any tick before it penetrates the skin. Check your pets regularly.
You can read more tips on how to prevent Lyme disease naturally.