We have all witnessed the ongoing controversy surrounding the so-called “Chronic Lyme Disease” or “Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease”, mainly because the majority of the medical community states that the disease is not chronic at all – but rather a short-term illness that can be cured with the help of antibiotics. But what do we actually know about Lyme disease and how has it become rumored to be potentially chronic? Starting from the basics, Lyme disease is actually a type of bacteria transmitted by ticks and is one of the most frequent tick-carried illnesses worldwide, affecting humans and animals alike (such as dogs). The bacteria known to cause the disease in the first place is scientifically known as Borrelia burgdorferi, which is borne by ticks and can affect individuals residing in areas surrounded by forests. Thankfully enough, Lymes is not life-threatening and can be cured with proper treating. But why do people turn to the idea of chronic Lyme disease? Is it real or fake? And if it does exist under one form or another, what can we do to treat or even cure it? Find out all about this condition and many more below, and take precautions in order to be both tick-free, Lyme-free and all in all healthy.
So why are people making a fuss about chronic Lyme disease? You should know that the official term does not even exist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly state that “although often called chronic Lyme disease, this condition is properly known as Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). This is because a number of patients (around 10-20%, to be more precise) end up experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease weeks after treatment, even undergoing aches, fatigue or pain for over six months post-antibiotics. Even though doctors have not yet detected the cause for the prolonged symptoms, the majority of medical professionals believe that they result from damage to the immune system and tissues while suffering from the disease.
Although symptoms may linger for quite a lot of patients after taking the proper treatment for Lyme disease, most experts from institutions like the American Academy of Neurology, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are strongly against treatment with antibiotics for a long period of time for this condition. Not only do we lack evidence to sustain “chronic” Lyme disease, but long-term treatment with antibiotics can be potentially toxic for a human being. The great part of the situation is that individuals undergoing Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome have a very high success rate of overcoming the symptoms in time. Unfortunately, the healing process can take even over half a year to be complete. Let’s find out how you detect Lyme disease in the first place, what testing needs to be done in order to confirm a diagnosis, and how we can treat and prevent this complex illness.
There are different types of symptoms and signs regarding Lyme disease: early and later ones. Unfortunately, this disease affects multiple systems at a time and they vary depending on the state of the disease. A few of the early symptoms crop up in the first month of infection, and are usually similar to those of flu and can involve a rash. A person developing Lyme disease can experience aches (both body and headaches), chills, fever and fatigue, the typical signs of flu. Moreover, a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye can form around the area where the tick bite took place. It is normal for the area to be irritated and for a tiny bump to form at the beginning, but the sign of Lyme’s is when the redness extends and forms the specific rash, scientifically known as erythema migrans. This rash is the most common symptom that points to Lyme disease.
A couple of the symptoms that take place weeks or months after infection are neurological problems or joint pain, as well as inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) or eye, aggravated fatigue and changes in heartbeat, which are less common than the first two. Lyme disease can sometimes go hand in hand with meningitis, difficulties in moving muscles or even temporary paralysis. These symptoms can persist for even years after infection, which is probably why most people consider Lyme disease to be chronic. Furthermore, you might experience swelling joints and pain in these areas, especially in your knees.
If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms after you have been bitten by a tick, immediately contact a specialist for diagnosis and treatment options. Studies show that the more the tick stays stuck to your skin, the more likely you will be to develop Lyme disease. All specialists recommend that treatment begins as soon as possible in order to obtain efficient results. Even if you no longer experience these symptoms it is still recommended to speak with a healthcare professional, as this does not mean that you are cured.
Various tests and examinations are involved when attempting to confirm a diagnosis of Lyme disease. The diagnosis process begins with a discussion with your doctor, in which he will probably ask you about your medical history and recent activities, especially if you have been outside a lot during the summer. The consultation will likely continue with a physical examination and running a series of tests. Usually the lab tests are carried out a couple of weeks after you have been bitten, in order to obtain specific results. One of the most common tests for detecting Lyme disease is the ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test. Its objective is to indicate antibodies to the bacteria we mentioned before, Borrelia burgdorferi. Even though it is the first test doctors turn to for detecting Lyme disease, if the ELISA test has positive results another test must be undergone in order to confirm them. The Western blot test works in two steps and aims to confirm the diagnosis in general. The final test you might undergo is Polymerase chain reaction, abbreviated as PCR. It is usually carried out for individuals suffering from chronic Lyme arthritis, as it works with the fluid in infected joints that are suspect of containing bacterial DNA.
After you have undergone all the exams and tests, and you have been positively diagnosed with Lyme disease, you should learn about treatment options. Antibiotics are the main form of oral treatment for curing Lyme disease, a few of the medications prescribed being cefuroxime axetil, doxycycline or amoxicillin. If a patient is also suffering from heart or neurological conditions, he or she might have to undergo intravenous treatment with penicillin or ceftriaxone, for instance.
The sooner you consult with your doctor and begin your treatment, the faster you will end up healing. Always make sure that you take probiotics in the same period of time that you are on antibiotics in order to keep your body safe and healthy in the long run.
Particularly in the United States, the leading cause of Lyme disease is the Borrelia burgdorferi most often borne by blacklegged (deer) ticks. This specific species of ticks is incredibly tiny (specialists confirming that they can be the size of a pinhead) are brown-colored and can often be found in mid-Atlantic, north-central or northeastern America. Another type of tick that can carry the infection is the lxodes pacificus, commonly known as the western blacklegged tick, affecting the Pacific Coast of the United States. The only way to get infected by Lyme disease is if a deer tick bites you, allowing the Borrelia burgdorferi to penetrate into your blood. Doctors estimate that it takes anywhere around 36 to 48 hours for a tick to transmit the disease while being attached to your skin.
You should also know that deer or blacklegged ticks not only infect humans with Lyme disease, but also can cause babesiosis, Powassan encephalitis or anaplasmosis. The great news is that you cannot contract Lyme disease from another human, as the illness is not sexually transmitted in any way. Likewise, pregnant women can follow antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease without affecting the fetus.
Possibly the greatest question of all is: How can we prevent Lyme disease or Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome from occurring in the first place? The greatest way to avoid the disease is to avoid the regions where blacklegged ticks reside, mainly forests and wooded areas in general with tall grass. Even if you are going out camping with the family, you can prepare beforehand and protect both you and your loved ones. A reliable insect repellent is a must if you are planning to go outdoors in the woods. Specialists recommend 20%+ DEET concentration in repellents, which should be applied on the skin but without touching the eyes, mouth or hands. You can protect your garments as well, by applying permethrin-based products to them. Also if you’re on a trip in the great outdoors, be sure to wear long sleeves and pants at all times. Avoid bushy areas or those with long grass, as ticks tend to live there. Make sure you leave as little skin as possible showing, meaning that you should have gloves on, as well as a hat and long pants pushed into socks. Always double-check the entire family (including your pets!) after staying outside for longer periods of time, being careful to shower and scrub the skin well.
If you want to protect your home and the area surrounding it, try to avoid storing piles of wood in dark or moist areas. Keep them in the sun where they can be dry and tick-free. Also, never think that you might not be able to get infected, even if you have suffered from Lyme disease in the past.
In the case of a tick bite, you can still prevent Lyme disease by taking action immediately. Use a pair of sterile tweezers and carefully pluck the tick out. Make sure you grab the tick by the head, as applying pressure to its stomach might end up in crushing. After you have succeeded in fully removing the tick from your skin, make sure you throw it away in a safe place and rub the bitten region with antiseptic to avoid infection.
If you are still apprehensive about the existence of chronic Lyme disease or if you are undergoing the typical symptoms of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, you should know that you are not alone and that you can find support both on and off-line. The Lyme Disease Support Group, MD Junction, Daily Strength are just a few of the online communities which aim to help individuals living with Lyme disease with coping. Face-to-face Lyme disease support groups can be found all across the United States, like Mammoth Lakes Lyme Support Group, East Bay Lyme Education & Patient Support (L.E.A.P.S.) or Humboldt Lyme Awareness Group (HLAG), all located in California. Nevertheless, the best support you can get is from the doctor who has access to your files and who has personally consulted you. Make sure you contact a professional if you ever experience any of these symptoms and don’t forget to stay safe and take all the necessary precautions when going outdoors.