“I don’t understand how you don’t trust science to prevent disease, but all of a sudden you’ll run to the hospital to take every experimental drug they can give you to save your life.” Jason Arena speaking to the people who downplay COVID 19. *
In 1975, an outbreak of an unknown arthritic-type disease** struck 51 adults and children in Lyme, Connecticut. It would take two more years to link this mysterious disorder to the deer tick and a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi.
Voila! – the term Lyme Disease entered our everyday vocabulary for the very first time.
Diagnostic testing methods waited until 1984. Three years later, doctors were required to report any and all cases of Lyme disease. Over the next decade, the number of cases grew and spread to other locations. This prompted the federal government to provide funding for research and surveillance programs.
So, did Lyme disease actually start in Lyme, Connecticut? No, it goes back further than 1975 – a lot further.
About 5,300 years ago, a man thought to be fleeing a pursuer was killed by a flint-tipped arrowhead launched into his shoulder by his enemy’s bow. What he did to deserve such a death is uncertain. But his body was soon covered by snow, and he spent the next five millennia encased in ice.
Named Otzi or Iceman, the natural mummy was found in 1991 by hikers high in the Alps near the Austrian-Italian border. Perfectly preserved, including his stomach contents, Otzi showed evidence of multiple injuries and a host of parasites.
Otzi obviously lived with chronic pain and a good bit of gastrointestinal misery to boot.
In 2017, researchers from the University of Toronto discovered the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, in Otzi’s bones.
One of the big takeaways from this discovery is that he had suffered a rapid loss of bone mass. Otzi went from average bone density to osteopenia in only four weeks. Osteopenia is a less advanced form of osteoporosis.
This discovery is huge in terms of better understanding the chronic effects of Lyme disease. It may also lead to more efficacious drugs in preventing loss of bone mass and arthritis in those suffering from osteoporosis.
The health conditions of the Iceman point to the likelihood that Homo sapiens have been dealing with Lyme Disease since prehistoric times. Hats off to Otzi for his invaluable contribution to the study of Lyme disease.
And that leads us into the tall weeds of chronic Lyme disease. This is where Lyme disease gets a bit murky and possibly overlapped by other underlying conditions.
For approximately 75 percent of the people who contract Lyme disease, the first symptom will be a rash popularly called a bullseye rash (erythema migrans). The generally non-itchy rash resembles a concentric-ring target.
In addition to the rash, flu-like symptoms are not uncommon. A two to four-week regimen of antibiotics, generally doxycycline, usually does the trick.
As stated in last week’s article, you will get no immunity for your troubles. A future blood-meal by an infected deer tick could result in another case of Lyme Disease.
If symptoms of the infection are consistently eliminated by a single course of antibiotics, there would be no further health problem associated with Lyme disease.
But, for some unfortunate patients, the symptoms expand to other parts of the body and often worsen. A persistent case of Lyme disease is called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) and is the focus of much research and debate.
There are several theories as to why some patients suffer lingering or chronic symptoms of Lyme disease.
One explanation may lie in the bacteria’s ability to quickly mutate. The Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria (called a spirochete) are confined to the bloodstream for a limited time. Likewise, it takes time for the body’s immune system to develop antibodies.
It is thought that by the time the patient’s antibodies respond, the bacteria have mutated into an unrecognizable form. The new variant of Borrelia burgdorferi survives long enough to leave the bloodstream and migrate into the lymphatic system, joints, bone, heart, and even the brain.
Such a distribution of the infection can result in persistent joint pain and has the potential in rare cases to cause cardiac arrhythmias.
If the brain becomes infected, encephalopathy can result. The patient may suffer cognitive dysfunctions such as memory loss, difficulty speaking, confusion and personality changes.
Persistent auto-immune responses sometimes occur in diseases like chlamydia and Guillan-Barre syndrome, even after the infection has been successfully treated. The thought is that this factor may also play a role in Lyme Disease infection.
Another explanation for the persistence of symptoms in post-treatment are causes totally unrelated to Lyme disease. Other undiagnosed health conditions may account for persistent symptoms in some patients.
Some medical experts suggest that the antibiotic regimen should be lengthened beyond the usual two to four weeks. Others claim that longer-term use of antibiotics offers hazards of their own.
Several studies demonstrated that those taking extended regimens of antibiotics fare no better than the placebo group.
See, I told you we would wade into the weeds. Now, let’s get back onto the well-trodden path.
If dogs can get a vaccine, why can’t I?
There was a human vaccine for Lyme disease developed by SmithKline Beecham in 1998. LYMErix was approved by the FDA after extensive testing. It was pulled from the shelves in 2002 for lackluster sales.
There is some speculation that an aggressive anti-vaccination initiative at the time scuttled the drug. However, nothing definitive was ever proven regarding any adverse side effects of the vaccine. Apparently, it was an effective scare campaign.
Two major drug companies are currently running clinical trials on a Lyme vaccine that directly attacks Borrelia. It disarms (binds) the bacteria in the tick’s mid-gut, preventing it from infecting the human host.
As for our non-political, four-legged friends, they have no hard and fast opinions on vaccines. So they can enjoy the protection from Lyme disease as long as the booster shots are continued.
The canine vaccine for Lyme disease is approximately 80% effective. However, the vaccine will be ineffective if the dog is already infected.
Vaccinating our dogs is not without controversy, even among leading veterinary experts. If you are considering vaccinating your dog, it is prudent to consult with your own veterinarian about the pros and cons.
Prevention of Lyme disease.
Whether we are talking about diet, exercise or Lyme disease, developing good habits is, well, a good thing. Good habits are the very best way to protect ourselves from contagious and vector-borne diseases.
Discipline and good habits are not necessarily the same thing. Good and bad habits become wired into the brain’s circuitry, and both are hard to break.
Good habits can cause the brain to release “feel good” hormones like endorphins. We can create a positive feedback loop by maintaining habits that are favorable to our health.
Friends who see me running each morning often tell me that I am disciplined. I assure them that I am not. Just drop off a large bag of potato chips on my porch and an empty bag will be the only thing left by the end of the day.
But, through the influence of my friends who have good habits, I have developed my own habits. Following a Lyme disease scare a few years ago, I make sure that I perform a thorough body scan after every outing.
I do the same for my dogs. I know that if I can properly remove a deer tick within 36 hours of attachment, I have a near-100% percent chance of preventing Lyme disease in both my dogs and me.
I like those odds. They are much better than not taking the recommended precautions around the new Delta variant of COVID.
Be informed; factual knowledge is actual power.
** Lyme arthritis occurs in 25 percent of cases – CDC