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Sunday, May 01, 2005

What is Lyme Disease?

1. Lyme disease is prevalent across the United States. Ticks do not know geographic boundaries. A patient's county of residence does not accurately reflect their total Lyme disease risk, since people travel, pets travel, and ticks travel. This creates a dynamic situation with many opportunities for exposure for each individual.

2. Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis. Spirochetal infection of multiple organ systems causes a wide range of symptoms. Familiarity with its varied presentations is key to recognizing disseminated Lyme disease. Case reports in the medical literature document its protean manifestations.

3. Fewer than 50% of patients with Lyme disease recall a tick bite. In some studies this number is as low as 15% in culture proven Lyme borrelial infection.

4. Fewer than 50% of patients with Lyme disease recall any rash. Although the bull's eye presentation is considered classic, it is not the most common dermatologic manifestation of early-localized Lyme infection. Atypical forms of this rash are seen far more commonly. It is important to know that the Erythema Migrans rash is pathognomonic of Lyme disease and requires no further verification prior to starting 6 weeks of antibiotic therapy. Shorter treatment courses have resulted in upwards of a 40% relapse rate.

5. The CDC surveillance criteria were devised to track a narrow band of cases for epidemiologic change and were never set up to be used as diagnostic criteria nor were they meant to define the entire scope of Lyme disease. This is stated in the 3/25/91 NIH report.

6. The ELISA test is unreliable, and misses 35% of culture proven Lyme (only 65% sensitivity!) and is unacceptable as the first step of a two step screening protocol. (By definition a screening test should have 95% sensitivity.)

7. Of patients with acute culture proven Lyme disease, 20-30% remain seronegative on serial Western Blot sampling. Antibody titers also appear to decline over time; thus, the IgG Western Blot is even less sensitive in detecting chronic Lyme infection yet the IgM Western Blot may work. For "epidemiological purposes" the CDC eliminated from the Western Blot analysis the reading of bands 31 and 34. These bands are so specific to Borrelia burgdorferi that they have been chosen for vaccine development. However, for patients not vaccinated for Lyme, a positive 31 or 34 band is highly indicative of Borrelia burgdorferi exposure.

8. When used as a part of a diagnostic evaluation for Lyme disease, the Western Blot should be performed by a laboratory that reads and reports on all 16 bands as part of their routine comprehensive analysis. Laboratories (such as SmithKline) that use FDA approved kits (for instance, Mardex's Marblot) are restricted from reporting all of the bands, as they must abide by the rules of the manufacturer. These rules are set up in accordance with the CDCs surveillance criteria. and increase the risk of false negative results. These kits may be OK for surveillance purposes, but offer too scanty of an analysis to be useful in patient management.

9. A preponderance of evidence indicates that active ongoing spirochetal infection is the cause of the persistent symptoms in chronic Lyme disease.

10. There has never in the history of this illness been one study that proves even in the simplest way that 30 days of antibiotic treatment cures Lyme disease. However there is a plethora of documentation in the US and European medical literature demonstrating histologically and in culture that short courses of antibiotic treatment fail to eradicate the Lyme spirochete.

11. An uncomplicated case of chronic Lyme disease requires an average of 6-12 months of high dose antibiotic therapy. The return of symptoms and evidence of the continued presence of Borrelia burgdorferi indicates the need for further treatment. The very real consequences of untreated chronic persistent Lyme infection far outweigh the potential consequences of long term antibiotic therapy.

12. Many patients with Lyme disease require treatment for 1-4 years, or until the patient is symptom free. Relapses occur and maintenance antibiotics may be required. There are no tests available to assure us whether the organism is eradicated or the patient is cured.

13. There are 5 subspecies of Borrelia burgdorferi, over 100 strains in the US, and 300 strains worldwide. This diversity is thought to contribute to Borrelia burgdorferi's antigenic variability and its various antibiotic resistances.

14. Antibody titers for Babesia microti, HGE, HME (other tick transmitted diseases) should be performed. The presence of co-infection points to probable Lyme infection, and when left untreated increases morbidity and complicates successful treatment of Lyme disease.

15. Lyme disease is the latest great imitator and should be considered in the differential diagnosis of MS, ALS, seizure and other neurologic conditions, as well as arthritis, CFS, Gulf war syndrome, ADHD, hypochondriasis, fibromyalgia, somatization disorder and patients with various difficult-to-diagnose multi-system syndromes.

*This information came from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society

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