Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease

Causes of Lyme Disease

by Kamau Kokayi, MD
Kamau Kokayi bw

The causal agents of Lyme disease are Borrelia bacteria in North America, carried by Ixodes scapularis in Eastern North America, or Ixodes pacificus in the West. Out of the 11 described Borrelia species, three have been identified as having the capacity to spread Lyme disease: B. burgdorferi, B. afzelii, and B. garinii. Also considered to be infectious are B. bissetti and B. valaisiana, but not as significant causal agents of the disease. In North America, the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), better known as the deer tick, has been identified as the key vector for spread of the disease.

Tick 1

A different tick species, Amblyomma americanum, or common lone-star tick—named for the distinctive white dot on the female's back—has been found to carry the borreliosis spirochete known as B. lonestari, in approximately 2% of its population. This organism is the putative agent of STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness), otherwise known as Southern Lyme, or Masters disease after its discoverer, Ed Masters. Dr. Masters worked diligently to gain recognition of this illness, which resembles Lyme clinically, though sufferers rarely test positive for Lyme with currently available testing methods. Amblyomma americanum has increased in prevalence in the past 40 years, and its range now includes the Midwest, extending northeastward to Maine and into the Southeast.

The B. burgdorferi bacterium is a spirochete, a corkscrew-shaped organism with a complex life cycle that requires ticks, rodents, and deer. The main reservoir of the spirochete is mice, while the main host of the Ixodes tick is the deer, with the tick transferring the Borrelia bacteria back and forth between the two. Other animals, including birds, humans and their pets, among others, may be involved as alternate hosts or agents of transmission.

The spirochete attaches itself to the gut of the disease-carrying tick. During the 24 to 48 hours after the tick has attached itself to its host, the spirochete multiplies and moves to the salivary glands of the tick. The spirochete at this point faces the defenses of the immune system of the host to which the tick is attached. Antibodies, leukocytes, polymorphonuclear cells, and macrophages are all hostile complements of the host's immune system that kill most of the invading bacteria.

These particular bacteria, however, possess mechanisms that enable them to evade detection, to inactivate mechanisms that typically kill them, and to then hide themselves in less accessible compartments of the body, such as within the extracellular matrix. One such mechanism involves binding proteins on the surface of the spirochete that allow it to attach to host proteins, including one associated with collagen. Lupus-like and arthritic symptoms are explained by this ability, as clinical features in tissues of chronic Lyme sufferers bear similarities to those of lupus and arthritic conditions.

Once camouflaged with host-like proteins and established in the body the infection, if untreated with antibiotics, can migrate into the central nervous system and generate the variety of debilitating, often painful symptoms chronic Lyme disease is known for. The particular mechanism for entering the central nervous system is unknown at this time. Disseminating widely through the body, specimens of the spirochetes have been found in heart muscle, muscle, bone, spleen, liver, retina, and the brain.

In some Lyme sufferers post-infection syndromes remain a severe problem for months or years after a standard course of antibiotic treatment. Treatment-resistant Lyme arthritis leaves as many as 10% of Lyme arthritis patients with persistent joint inflammation long after treatment. It is unclear whether the syndrome is due to persistent infection of hard-to-reach spirochetes, or to an infection-induced autoimmune condition. Evidence exists for both possibilities.

Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment have been wrought with controversy and debate because of the difficulty in pinning down a clear diagnosis caused by this resourceful microbe. Co-infections with related species or strains, latent Lyme infections, and a bewildering spectrum of symptoms that appear in much the same way as other difficult-to-treat diseases make Lyme particularly prone to controversy. Careful screening and a holistic approach to treatment avoids some of the controversy by treating the disease from a number of different angles integratively.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

The effects of chronic Lyme disease can significantly affect your health, livelihood, and overall well-being. Conventional antibiotic therapy may provide an initial sense of relief, but if your symptoms should return, continue, or worsen in spite of conventional therapy, as they do in many Lyme sufferers, broadening your therapeutic options is a worthwhile step toward restoring both your health and your sense of well-being.

At Patients Medical we draw upon both modern and ancient healing arts to tackle the oft-times bewildering problems chronic Lyme disease presents in our patients. Our team of Lyme experts can develop a personalized, integrative treatment protocol designed to optimize your long-term health and support you in countering the symptoms and detrimental effects of Lyme disease.


Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

Our job at Patients Medical is to listen, to connect the dots between a patient's medical history, symptoms, and their underlying causes. Patients Medical is a superb place for women and men to secure integrative and holistic health care from providers who give personalized care, partner with the patient to focus on the root cause of their illness, support their recovery, and help them maintain good health.

To make an appointment with one of our physicians, please call us at 1-212-794-8800. We look forward to hearing from you.

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