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Still No Bullseye on Lyme Disease Treatment

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By Collin Myers, Technical Writer/Marketing Assistant

On a cold night in December roughly ten years ago, I came home from work to an empty house. I can’t remember where my family had disappeared to, but when I walked in through the basement door, and turned on the overhead light in the living room, I realized that I wasn’t alone. We had bought a Christmas tree from a local nursery just a few minutes down the road, and the tree occupied a space in the far corner of the basement living room, bedazzled with multicolored lights, garland, candy canes, and shiny red and silver balls. Back then my vision was 20/20, and dotted along the white carpet, I could see armies of tiny, scurrying insects. 

Panicked, when my parents returned, I showed them what was happening. The tree was swiftly removed from our house. My little brother, who is very anti-insect and a compulsive germaphobe, begged my parents to let him spend the night in a hotel. For days we had to evacuate our house and allow the exterminators to do their work. Later, it was revealed that the tree had been infested with deer ticks. That was the last night the Myers family ever celebrated Christmas with a real tree. 

Even after the Deer Ticket Incident of 2003, I never thought to get checked for Lyme Disease. I’ve encountered rashes, chickenpox, and my body has hosted a huge collection of mosquito bites over the years, but luckily I never noticed a red bullseye-type rash that is often the signature symptom of a tick-borne infection. 

Recent cases of Lyme Disease in the US have tripled. According to Michael Specter, author of “The Lyme Wars,??? a recent article published in The New Yorker, “Lyme Disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States, and the incidence is growing rapidly. In 2009, the CDC reported 38,000 cases, three times more than in 1991??? (p.25). Read the full story here http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/01/130701fa_fact_specter.  

Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium known as Borrelia borgdorferi, transmitted by the bite and infection of a black-legged tick (commonly known as a deer tick). 

Diagnosing Lyme Disease has been a challenge for physicians. Not all patients infected by the bacteria show rashes or physical reactions, and patients who are prescribed antibiotics often suffer from a variety of symptoms long after their initial treatment periods, leading to a new phenomenon known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease. According to Specter’s story, the diagnostic methods for identifying Lyme Disease are subpar, symptoms are inconsistent, and treatment is often ineffective and unable to fight off the disease in the long-term. 

Co-infection with another pathogen can increase the severity of various symptoms resulting in Lyme Disease infection, including fever, irritability, depression, headaches, joint pains, muscle pains, chills, anxiety, and insomnia. The disease is often latent, exacerbated by other infections and combinations of illnesses that suppress the immune system and leave the body vulnerable to infection (as with HIV). Other possible symptoms can include lupus, arthritis, MS, dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Autism, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.  

Standard procedure for diagnosing the disease is the identification of a bullseye rash on a patient’s body. Once the rash is discovered, antibiotics are prescribed. Identifying complications that can arise from co-infection with other pathogens is still an unresolved challenge facing physicians and scientists, and there are still too many questions over whether or not there is ample scientific evidence to diagnose Lyme Disease as a potentially chronic infection. As of now, according to popular publications, there is no overwhelming proof that the disease persists in humans. 

One method of treatment cultivated by Dr. Richard Horowitz, a prominent Lyme Disease specialist based in Hyde Park, New York, includes a combination of supplements and dietary restrictions to help the body naturally detoxify and stave off the spread of bacteria. Horowitz has seen over 12,000 patients with tick-borne illnesses. He says that most of his patients suffer from not only Lyme Disease, but multiple co-infections that make symptoms harder to define and treatment more challenging to plan. The fact that symptoms have such a wide range from insomnia to depression can confuse a physician’s ability to properly diagnose the disease. Most patients experiencing these symptoms will often look to more common causes and illnesses.  

According to Specter’s story in The New Yorker, “Physicians who regularly see people with Lyme symptoms say that conventional methods simply don’t work??? (p.28). There are still just as many questions about Lyme Disease as there are answers. Defense measures that can be taken to ward off ticks include wearing light-colored clothing, tucking pant-legs into socks, wearing long-sleeve shirts, using repellant on exposed skin as well as on clothes, and examining your body after spending large chunks of time outdoors. 

Another factor in the increasing cases of Lyme Disease is global warming and climate change. As temperatures around the world continue to rise, so does the population of disease-carrying insects. Cases of West Nile Virus have now been deemed endemic in several countries, including Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States. West Nile Virus, like Lyme Disease, can cause a range of symptoms including irreversible brain damage and meningitis. A research team from Haifa U, assembled by the European Union, has discovered a trend between rising temperatures and noticeable increases in virus transmission.

Last Christmas, when my roommate came home with a real tree, my nightmares of the deer tick incident came flooding back to me. In the middle of the night, as I got a drink of water, tiptoeing through the kitchen, I paused in front of the new tree, taking in the memories and the fresh smell of pine. Thankfully, my vision is no longer 20/20. Paranoid, I couldn’t help but flip on the light and check the floor before going back to bed.