Note: My perspective on Lyme Disease has evolved a little since I first wrote this article. To read my latest thoughts on Lyme Disease click here.
According to the CDC, Lyme Disease is the fastest growing vector borne illness in the US today. It is most often transmitted by the bite of a deer tick but there is evidence that it can also be sexually transmitted and passed from mother to child in utero.
The Lyme Disease pathogen is a spirocetal bacteria, known as borrelia, that can drill into nearly every kind of tissue in the human body often causing devastating symptoms. It has developed sophisticated systems for evading the immune system and surviving antibiotics. Borrelia is often accompanied by other tick borne co-infections such as babesia, bartonella, and countless more. This is why some doctors have taken to calling the disease the Lyme Borrelia Complex.
The classic symptoms for acute infection are a tick bite followed by a bullseye rash, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue and flu-like symptoms. Ticks are very tiny however and tick bites are easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for. Many obviously infected patients cannot recall a tick bite and, according to ILADS, 50% of all patients never develop the classic rash either. My bullseye rash did not show up until I was several years into treatment.
Lyme Disease can become chronic if it is not treated immediately. There is anecdotal evidence of the possibility that some individual’s immune system’s could keep the infection in check for a long, long time. Many people, including myself, were infected for years before becoming severely ill and it seems possible that some people could be infected yet never fall ill.
Reasons why a latent infection might become virulent are still only speculation but many Lyme sufferers have cited a traumatic event, the birth of a child, a bout of severe mono or toxic mold exposure as triggering their illness. I for one had a very stressful year followed by three months of living in a moldy apartment before my health crash.
The symptoms of chronic Lyme Disease are vast and too many to list. Because Lyme can get into just about any body system and mimic dozens of different diseases, it has been nicknamed The Great Imitator. Severe pain and fatigue, psychiatric symptoms, heart problems, dysautonomia, light and sound sensitivity, and neurological degeneration are all very common. For a more exhaustive list of symptoms click here.
Treatment for chronic neurological Lyme Disease is very difficult and often unsuccessful but many patients have recovered with long term antibiotics coupled with supportive detox methods. Antibiotics and anti-bacterial herbs and supplements trigger a lot of inflammation because the pathogens release neurotoxins as they die. This is why a patient almost always gets worse before they get better.
My physician, Dr. Jemsek, utilizes a pulsed treatment protocol that includes regular two week breaks from the antibiotics. This gives the body time to catch up with detoxing all of the neurotoxins that are released during treatment cycles. It also gives the gut a break, gives probiotic supplements a chance to colonize and allows the immune system to take a wack at fighting the infection on it’s own. Dr. Jemsek also rotates different antibiotics to target all of the co-infections and to prevent antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics can be harsh but they are often necessary and I can think of no better approach to using them than the Jemsek protocol.
If you want to delve deeper into understanding Lyme Disease, some of the resources I recommend are listed below.