Lyme 101

TickAccording to the CDC, Lyme is the fastest growing vector-born infectious disease in the United States. If caught early, treatment can eradicate the infection in 6-8 weeks. If left untreated, the Lyme spirochete can embed into any area of the body, making treatment long-term and complicated.

Lyme is a much bigger problem than acknowledged. In fact, it’s 10 times worse than previously thought, with reported annual cases of 300,000 vs 30,000 — and that is using the very strict standard of the CDC. If patients without a confirmed tick bite or migrans rash were included, my guess is the number would be astronomical.

For the last six years, Pennsylvania has been number one or number two for cases of diagnosed Lyme. It’s affecting our families, our children, our neighbors, and our co-workers, yet we have no legislation as of right now in Pennsylvania to help with this exploding epidemic.

Information, awareness, and Lyme literately trained medical practitioners (LLMDs) are key because the symptoms are so similar to other diseases. Lyme is considered the great masquerader. The symptoms can wax and wane in the body, and the bacteria can lay dormant only to become active years later. This makes it difficult for an untrained physician to make the connection to a previous tick bite.

There are five subspecies of Lyme, over 100 strains in the U.S. and 300 strains worldwide. This diversity is thought to contribute to its ability to evade the immune system and antibiotic therapy, leading to chronic infection. See more at the ILADS website.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses the migrans rash and a tick bite as the tell-tale signs. Those who find a migrans rash or the tick are the lucky ones because they have a confirmed infection, which means treatment can begin right away.  However according to ILADS, fewer than 50 percent of people with Lyme disease recall a rash. And fewer than 50 percent recall a tick bite. This makes it even more imperative for practitioners to be appropriately trained.

Currently, we have no reliable tests for Lyme disease. Instead, doctors should make a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms, medical history, and exposure to ticks. Some doctors will administer the ELISA test, and, if this is positive, follow this up with the Western Blot. The problem with this perspective is that the ELISA test has a 65 percent sensitivity — meaning it misses 35 percent of people. It is unacceptable as the first step of a two-step screening protocol. A screening test must have at least a 95-percent sensitivity.

When used as part of a clinical examination, the Western Blot test should only be performed by a laboratory that reads and reports all of the bands related to Lyme disease. Laboratories that use the FDA approved kits do not include bands 31 and 34, which were taken out of the test when the Lyme vaccine was on the market. These bands are specific to Lyme exposure, which is why they were used for the vaccine. That vaccine was pulled from the market, yet the bands were not put back into the test.

Igenex Laboratories does include these bands, and in my opinion, this is the most accurate test. Again, the Western Blot should only be used as part of a clinical examination. The CDC has said the “the diagnosis of Lyme disease is based primarily on clinical findings” but many doctors do not recognize this. This misinformation results in un-diagnosed or misdiagnosed patients who consequently develop chronic Lyme disease. My hope is that by equipping yourself with the information on this website, you can avoid the same outcome.

Sources: ILADS, PA Lyme Network, TBDA, NatCapLyme

To learn All About Ticks, please click on Lyme 101 for posts on Co-infections, Testing, Symptoms, Precautions & Prevention, Tick Removal, and Lyme Borrelia.