03/03/2015 14:33

Lyme Disease - An Invisible Epidemic

    Today, Lyme disease is the second most popular disease researched on the internet—and the most likely to be misdiagnosed and undertreated. No other infectious disease has had the controversy and politics associated with it. Provincial and federal governments continue to support that Lyme disease is rare in Canada—yet it appears that we have the highest rates in the world linked to Lyme infection.  Inaccurate testing—combined with a fierce, ongoing debate that questions chronic infection—makes it difficult for sufferers to find effective care which often results in a misdiagnosis.  

    Although “tick season” is considered late spring and summer, tick bites occur in almost every month of the year. There is no “safe” season. With a declining biodiversity, we are seeing an influx of migratory birds, deer, mice—and, as a result, more ticks—with few or no natural enemies, living in an ever-shrinking habitat, and ever closer to the human population. Consequently, Lyme disease has become the fastest growing infectious disease in the Northern hemisphere and has been labelled in the medical literature as the “Great Imitator”. It can mimic every disease process, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia,  and various autoimmune conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Arthritis, as well as neurodegenerative conditions resembling Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and so much more. It is a multisystem infection, affecting numerous parts of the body (depending on where the bacteria migrate). A fast pounding or irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, vertigo, inflamed joints, gastrointestinal problems, tinnitus, anxiety, depression, tremors, dementia—and even paralysis—can all be indicators of Lyme.  

     Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgoderferi (Bb)—a tick borne pathogen—that humans contract from the bite of an infected tick. It travels to local nerves and lymphatic channels, penetrates the blood stream, and can rapidly invade the brain. It then sets up house inside cells and tissues, evades detection, and starts provoking the immune system. Early symptoms are often “flu like” with fatigue and malaise, including headache, neck ache, and fever. In some individuals, it causes nonspecific activation of immune cells resulting in a clinical presentation that looks exactly like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ALS and many other autoimmune diseases. A characteristic rash which often resembles a bull’s-eye at the site of the bite is an early indicator of an infection and should never be ignored.  Regrettably, not all individuals who contract this disease will manifest this obvious sign or the event of an attached tick—leaving no concrete evidence as to the cause of their symptoms.

     Sometimes, appropriate and early antibiotic treatment can successfully treat the infection when it is recognized. However, in some people a tick bite can evolve into a circulated infection leading to disabling physical, cognitive, and psychological manifestations, along with complex and inconclusive lab results. Because of this, Lyme disease has been ignored or trivialized by the medical profession. Since there is a wide variability in how the disease presents itself, acknowledgement can be difficult—leaving medical care remarkably unavailable for those who fall victim to this disease.

   

      Many physicians advocate limiting treatment to only a few weeks—regardless of the severity of the illness—with the belief that long term antibiotics pose a threat to one’s health. This alleged danger hardly compares to the tormenting disability associated with this disease. Because Lyme involves many strains of bacteria with characteristics that elude antibiotics, the standard 30 day protocol of Doxycycline is not effective enough to cure the infection and may require intensive and long-term therapy. In light of this, the public faces lack of proper medical care, which can result in delayed treatment, leading to an exacerbated illness and permanent disability.

    Those with Lyme often hear the words, “But you look so well!” from family and friends. And although a multitude of debilitating symptoms can terrorize an individual, they are usually invisible to medical professionals. Frustrated physicians may cast the problems as psychological, and patients are left with stacks of records stating that they don’t have Lyme. Without the correct procedure, people may be put on unnecessary (and harmful) anti-inflammatory drugs that often reduce the body’s immune response, further complicating their Lyme symptoms.

    When treatment is denied, it is not uncommon for those with Lyme disease to be referred to psychologists or psychiatrists in the case that usual laboratory tests are negative and lacking a concrete diagnosis. If patients are ill, worried, frustrated or angry, the opinion may be offered that “it’s all in their head.” Accepting this interpretation without question can have detrimental consequences costing the victim their quality of life with unimaginable grief and unnecessary suffering.

    However difficult it may seem—with Lyme there is still hope of remission. Individuals are required to take responsibility for finding needed medical care and seek out a Lyme Literate Doctor specializing in this field. Effective treatment requires a partnership and trust between patient and physician. Because of its complexity and far-reaching effects, Lyme disease will often require an individualized approach, needing more than just antibiotics in the healing process. While antibiotic therapy is fundamental in targeting this infection, it should not be viewed as a singular tool in beating chronic Lyme. A well-skilled doctor will take into consideration a patient’s unique biochemistry, immune function, toxicity levels, stress and diet, which all determine how well the body responds to treatment. Fortunately, many individuals have gained access to reliable testing methods and integrative procedures which effectively target Lyme and prepare the body for recovery. Some of these may include regular detoxification, with a focus on nutritional and biochemical support to deal with the burden of a chronic infection.  

     As someone who once walked this frightful quest some five years ago, I can only reflect back with gratitude at the wide array of medical options that have led to my recovery from Lyme disease. Restoring optimal health takes awareness, effort, perseverance, and patience. By becoming educated on the Lyme epidemic and its obscure nature, you too can help spread awareness and support those who are desperately seeking answers to their mysterious health battles.

 

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