In 2018, an estimated 1 million people in the U.S. were infected with Lyme disease and, by 2050, this number may rise to a shocking 55.7 million people!1 In fact, the incidence of Lyme disease has increased so dramatically that the scientific community has called for a “Manhattan Project” to combat the epidemic!2 Read on to learn all about Lyme disease and how you can protect yourself and your family from the growing Lyme epidemic.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a multi-system inflammatory disease transmitted by the bite of a tick infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. Alternately, a tick may transmit another Lyme disease-causing member of the Borrelia species complex, such as B. miyamotoi or B. hermsii.3,4,5,6 The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) transmits Lyme disease on the East Coast and in the Midwest while the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) transmits Lyme on the West Coast
Ticks transmit Lyme disease (and potentially a slew of other pathogens) when they bite and feed on their host’s blood. Young nymph black-legged and Western black-legged ticks have the highest Lyme disease infection rates.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The symptoms of Lyme disease differ markedly in the acute and chronic stages. Shortly after experiencing a tick bite (a few days to a few weeks), you may experience the following acute symptoms:
- Rashes (a bullseye “erythema migrans” rash and other irregular rashes)
- Night and day sweats
- Muscle and joint pain
- Neck pain
- Sleep issues.
Unfortunately, even though these are well-documented symptoms of acute Lyme disease, they are often mistaken by clinicians for the flu, especially when there is no bullseye rash. This is a common situation since only a minority of people with Lyme disease recall a tick bite or experience a bullseye rash.
If Lyme disease goes undiagnosed for months or years, it can result in a collection of disconcerting chronic symptoms, including:
- Joint pain
- Sleep issues
- Neuropsychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations
- Sudden aggressiveness and violence
- Neurodegenerative disease
- Insomnia and disrupted sleep
- Cardiovascular effects
- Chronic inflammation
While the conventional medical community continues to dismiss the existence of chronic Lyme disease, a growing body of research indicates that chronic Lyme is a genuine condition afflicting at least 1.5 million people in the U.S. alone.7
Lyme disease is on the rise
Case reports of Lyme disease first began to appear in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The medical community did not take much interest in the condition until 1975 when a population of people in the Connecticut towns of Lyme and Old Lyme presented with a bizarre illness that was later traced back to tick bites. In 1981, the causative agent of Lyme disease, a spirochetal bacterium eventually named Borrelia burgdorferi, was discovered by Swiss-American scientist Willy Burgdorfer.8
While the conventional medical community argues that Lyme disease is rare, recent research indicates it is anything but! In fact, Lyme disease is exploding in prevalence, with an estimated 1 million people newly infected in the U.S. in 2018, and 55.7 million people projected to be affected by 2050!1
Many health professionals and public health authorities also mistakenly believe that Lyme disease is limited to the east coast. However, it has been diagnosed in people from all 50 states, and Lyme-infected ticks have been found in 43 of 50 states. Reasons for the geographic spread of Lyme disease include increasing human encroachment on natural areas, the carrying of infected ticks by migratory birds, and climate change, which has allowed ticks to extend their life cycle.9,10,11
Lyme disease is persistent
The CDC argues that Lyme can typically be cured with a single round of antibiotics. However, this claim is directly contradicted by scientific evidence that Borrelia burgdorferi can evade the immune system, establishing persistence in its host.12
There are several ways in which B. burgdorferi manipulates and evades its host’s immune system:
B.burgdorferi suppresses the host immune system
Suppression of the host’s immune system is a primary mechanism by which B. burgdorferi establishes persistence in the body. Immune suppression starts during the initial tick bite, in which proteins in tick saliva suppress host production of IL-9, a molecule critical for regulating the immune response to pathogens.
B. burgdorferi also inhibits the activity of the complement system, the portion of the immune system responsible for enhancing the ability of antibodies and phagocytes to clear microbes and waste products from an organism.13 Interference with complement activation allows Borrelia to survive and disseminate from the original site of infection, invading other tissues and organs.
B burgdorferi changes shape
B. burgdorferi readily morphs from its spirochetal form into dormant round bodies, microcolonies, or biofilms, thereby evading the immune system.
Modifies expression of outer surface proteins
B.burgdorferi modifies its expression of outer surface proteins, which normally alert the immune system to its presence. This allows Borrelia to fly under the radar and establish persistence in the body.14
Last but not least, B. burgdorferi modifies its gene expression in response to antibiotics, quickly developing antibiotic resistance.15,16 In preclinical research, it has demonstrated resistance to doxycycline, amoxicillin, and ceftriaxone, three of the most commonly-prescribed antibiotics for Lyme disease.17 High doses of these antibiotics may alleviate Lyme disease in its early stages, but promote the dangerous persistent form of Borrelia when the disease is caught late.
Ticks carry dozens of harmful organisms
Ever since the discovery of Lyme disease, scientists have known that ticks carry many pathogens in addition to Borrelia burgdorferi, including other types of bacteria, parasites, and viruses. In fact, a single tick bite can transmit dozens of pathogens, referred to as Lyme “coinfections!” Some of the most common Lyme coinfections include Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia, Rickettsia, Mycoplasma, Chlamydia, and viruses. Some of these pathogens make it easier for B. burgdorferi to be transmitted, increasing its virulence.
Tips for Tick Avoidance and What to do If You’re Bitten
Be aware of ticks when outdoors. When trails are available, walk on them instead of through tall grasses or scrubby brush. Ticks particularly like to hang out on the tips of long grasses, waiting to hitch a ride on passersby.
Perform tick checks when you get home. When you return home from spending time outdoors (this could include settings ranging from the beach to a mountain forest or local park) throw your “outdoor clothes” in the dryer; the heat will kill any ticks that have latched on to the fabric. Next, perform tick checks on your children, partner, and pets, and have someone check you. Perform a thorough inspection, making sure to look behind the ears, along the hairline, and in the armpits and groin.
Use insect repellant. Insect repellant is critical for deterring ticks in Lyme-endemic areas; however, common chemical-based repellants, such as DEET and permethrin, have significant adverse effects, including DNA damage and allergic reactions. Repel lemon eucalyptus is a more natural option that has demonstrated efficacy equivalent to DEET for repelling ticks and mosquitos.20,21
Use proper technique to remove ticks. If you do experience a tick bite, it is critical that you remove it properly; improper removal technique can cause parts of the tick to remain in your skin, increasing the potential for infection. Tick Ease tweezers are designed specifically for removing ticks from the body. You can find excellent instructions on how to properly remove a tick on the Bay Area Lyme website.
Once you’ve removed the tick from your body, don’t throw it away! Send it to Tick Report or Tick Encounter to find out precisely what pathogens it harbors; this information can then help your doctor determine the best course of treatment for you.
Natural therapies for Lyme disease
A variety of natural therapies are available to support Lyme patients in their recovery, including Cat’s Claw, Glutathione, and Vitamin C. Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a South American plant with potent anti-viral, anti-Borrelia, and immunomodulating properties.22,23,24 The glutathione system plays a critical role in the clearance and detoxification of Borrelia burgdorferi by the body.25 Liposomal Glutathione supports the immune response against Borrelia by boosting glutathione levels while Liposomal Vitamin C quenches inflammation. Liposomal formulas are an ideal option because they allow for the rapid diffusion of antimicrobial phytochemicals, glutathione, and vitamin C directly into cells.
Lyme disease is a growing problem, but it doesn’t mean you should avoid the outdoors! A wholesome diet, healthy lifestyle, and targeted nutraceutical support can go a long way in boosting your defenses against Lyme disease, so you and your family can stay safe and healthy while enjoying the great outdoors.
- Davidsson M. The financial implications of a well-hidden and ignored chronic Lyme disease pandemic. Healthcare (Basel). 2018; 6(1): 16.
- Stricker RB, Johnson L. Lyme disease: Call for a “Manhattan Project” to combat the epidemic. PLoS Pathog. 2014; 10(1): e1003796.
- Wormser GP, et al. Borrelia miyamotoi: An emerging tick-borne pathogen. Am J Med. 2019; 132(2): 136-137.
- Telford SR, et al. Blood smears have poor sensitivity for confirming Borrelia miyamotoi J Clin Microbiol. 2019; 57(3): e01468-18.
- Pritt BS, et al. Identification of a novel pathogenic Borrelia species causing Lyme borreliosis with unusually high spirochaetaemia: a descriptive study. Lancet Infect Dis. 16(5): 556-564.
- Stevenson B, et al. The relapsing fever spirochete Borrelia hermsii contains multiple, antigen-encoding circular plasmids that are homologous to the cp32 plasmids of Lyme disease spirochetes. Infect Immun. 2000; 68(7): 3900-3908.
- DeLong A, et al. Estimation of cumulative number of post-treatment Lyme disease cases in the US, 2016 and 2020. BMC Public Health. 2019; 19: 352.
- Burgdorfer W. How the discovery of Borrelia burgdorferi came about. Clinics in Dermatol. 1993; 11(3): 335-338.
- Scott JD, et al. Far-reaching dispersal of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato-infected blacklegged ticks by migratory songbirds in Canada. Healthcare (Basel). 2018; 6(3): pii E89.
- MacDonald AJ. Abiotic and habitat drivers of tick vector abundance, diversity, phenology and human encounter risk in southern California. PLoS One. 2018; 13(7): e0201665.
- Monaghan AJ, et al. Climate change influences on the annual onset of Lyme disease in the United States. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2015; 6(5): 615-622.
- Tracy KE, Baumgarth N. Borrelia burgdorferi manipulates innate and adaptive immunity to establish persistence in rodent reservoir hosts. Front Immunol. 2017; [online].
- Garcia BL, et al. Borrelia burgdorferi BBK32 inhibits the classical pathway by blocking activation of the C1 complement complex. PLoS Pathog. 2016; [online].
- Liang FT, et al. Molecular adaptation of Borrelia burgdorferi in the murine host. J Exp Med. 2002; 196(2): 275.
- Caskey JR, et al. The functional and molecular effects of doxycycline treatment on Borrelia burgdorferi Front Microbiol. 2019; [online].
- Sharma B, et al. Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, forms drug-tolerant persister cells. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2015; 59(8): 4616-4624.
- Feng J, et al. Persister mechanisms in Borrelia burgdorferi: implications for improved intervention. Emerg Microbes Infect. 2015; 4(8): e51.
- Moore A, et al. Current guidelines, common clinical pitfalls, and future directions for laboratory diagnosis of Lyme disease, United States. CDC website. 2016.
- Waddell LA, et al. The accuracy of diagnostic tests for Lyme disease in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis of North American research. PLoS One. 2016; 11(12): e0168613.
- Diaz JH. Chemical and plant-based insect repellents: Efficacy, safety, and toxicity. Wilderness Environ Med. 2016; 27(1): 153-163.
- Carroll SP, Loye J. PMD, a registered botanical mosquito repellent with deet-like efficacy. J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 2006; 22(3): 507-514.
- Williams JE. Review of antiviral and immunomodulating properties of plants of the Peruvian rainforest with a particular emphasis on Una de Gato and Sangre de Grado. Altern Med Rev. 2001; 6(6): 567-579.
- Della Valle V. Uncaria tomentosa. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 2017; 152(6): 651-657.
- Datar A, et al. In vitro effectiveness of Samento and Banderol herbal extracts on the different morphological forms of Borrelia burgdorferi. Townsend Letter. 2010.
- Kerstholt M, et al. Role of glutathione metabolism in host defense against Borrelia burgdorferi PNAS. 2018; 115(10): E2320-E2328.