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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gregory Lanzaro named head of vector-borne diseases

Central Valley Business Times - Stockton,CA,USA
Medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro, director of the University of California Mosquito Research Program, has been named the new director of the UC Davis Center for Vector-borne Diseases.

Mr. Lanzaro has been the point person for both the Mosquito Research Program (UCMRP), a systemwide program of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Center for Vector-borne Diseases, a unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and managed in collaboration with the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the School of Medicine.

"Pathogens transmitted by insects and their relatives rank among the most important infectious diseases globally," says Mr. Lanzaro, in a written comment. "Diseases such as malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis take millions of lives annually and wreak havoc on the economies, and therefore quality of life, for many millions more throughout the world."

The United States, he says, is not immune to the threat of arthropod-borne disease. "Lyme disease, plague and a host of mosquito-transmitted encephalitic viruses are long-standing public health concerns in this country," Mr. Lanzaro says. "The recent introduction of West Nile virus serves to illustrate the capacity of insect-transmitted disease agents to move into parts of the world in which they were never previously present and spread rapidly once introduced”

Monday, January 23, 2006

Coming Soon: Confronting Lyme Disease

The book, Confronting Lyme Disease: What Patient Stories Teach Us, will be available for sale in Spring 2006. A formal press release will be issued when it is available for sale to the public.

Please visit the book's website at http://www.confrontinglyme.com/ to view a sampling of the book's contents and information about the authors. The book will be available for purchase from this site in the future. Payment will be through PayPal, and we can be contacted about bulk order discounts.

Two styles of books will be sold:
1. Full color interior photo pages (14 photos)
2. Black/white interior photo pages(14 photos)

Black and white photo books will be available from the website and through several internet sites including http://www.amazon.com/ and Booksurge Bookstore http://www.booksurge.com/bookstore.php3 where you can purchase the book with a credit card. Booksurge will also offer a downloadable e-book version.

Color photo books will be sold exclusively through the book's official website http://www.confrontinglyme.com/ .

You may contact the authors from the website if you have any questions using the "Contact us" link at the bottom of the website.

Please look for the formal press release in approximately 4 - 8 weeks!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Worn down by Lyme

Columbia Daily Tribune
Family says disease caused death at 37.

Although Kym Cooper’s autopsy says she died of natural causes, her family believes her death Monday while she was sleeping was a product of Lyme disease, an illness she struggled with for eight years.

"Anybody is going to wear down," said Adam Boster, Cooper’s brother-in-law. "I don’t think we’re meant to go forever in that stage."

Cooper lived with the severe pain and fatigue that accompanied the disease she contracted in 1998. She detailed her physical torment and battle with doctors who didn’t understand her sickness in a 2001 letter her mother found three days after her death at age 37.

"This came from Kym," Susan Cooper said yesterday, showing the letter to a reporter. "There were just so many people who couldn’t understand how a tick made her this sick."

In the United States, ticks are responsible for more human disease than any other insect, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says. Lyme disease is just one of several illnesses that can result from a tick’s bite.

The disease is caused by a bacterial agent, Borrelia burgdorferi. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle or joint aches and a red rash around the site of the initial bite.

Kym Cooper had worked as an activities director for a Fayette nursing home. After she was bitten by a tick in 1998, she just picked it off and kept walking, sister Steffany Boster said. It’s unclear whether the bite occurred on a trail in Boonville or in Columbia.

"I don’t think she ever gave it any thought," Boster said.

A few days later, a red rash developed around the bite.

A Boonville doctor advised Cooper to apply an ointment and forget about it. But she then began to experience extreme fatigue and had trouble walking and speaking.

"I knew something was really wrong," Cooper wrote in the 2001 letter.

Cooper’s Boonville doctor then diagnosed the problem as a stress disorder.

But as Cooper’s health declined, another doctor referred her to Gordon Christensen, a physician and professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Nearly a year after the bite occurred, Christensen diagnosed Cooper with Lyme disease - something he’s only diagnosed three times in his career.

"It’s a real challenge," Christensen said. "We don’t know a lot about this."

In Missouri, there were 15 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2004, said Karen Yates, the vector-borne diseases program coordinator at the Department of Health and Senior Services.

"We really have a hard time tracking that," Yates said yesterday. "We suspect that there are other people who do become ill and are not being counted."

Some cases of Lyme disease are incurable, but there is no diagnostic test to determine the presence of the disease.

For Christensen to make a strict diagnosis, he had to follow a strict set of questions and symptoms laid out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making matters even more complicated, Borrelia burgdorferi has never been isolated in a patient from Missouri.

"By that definition, there’s never been a case of Lyme disease in Missouri," Christensen said.

To test for Borrelia burgdorferi, a blood sample must be taken to see whether blood reacts to the illness’s genetic material, but other things can cause a reaction.

"It’s a big mess," Christensen said of efforts to make such a diagnosis.

Christensen said these unknowns have divided most physicians into one group that doesn’t believe Lyme disease has occurred and treats the symptoms and another group that aggressively treats the disease with antibiotics.

"I’m kind of right in the middle," Christensen said. "I don’t think either group has got it right."

Confusion like this drove Cooper to type a one-page letter.

"If you run into a doctor that says Lyme disease doesn’t exist, it’s time to find another doctor," said Adam Boster, Cooper’s brother-in-law.

Yates said that of Missouri’s 15 cases of Lyme disease in 2004, three affected residents of Boone County. The state department of health says the incidence of the disease was 2.21 per 100,000 in Boone County, compared with the state average of 0.46 per 100,000.

No confirmed Lyme disease case has been fatal.

"It’s a chronic illness, but it’s not considered to be lethal," Christensen said. "It’s the complications."

The CDC lists several tips to protect against ticks: Avoid tick-infested areas, wear light-colored clothing, use tick repellent and perform daily tick checks.

If someone finds a tick embedded in his or her skin, the CDC Web site recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick close to the skin and gently pull it straight up to keep its head intact with its body. After handling the tick, wash hands, clean the bite and watch for signs of illness.

As Cooper’s family members mourn, they are preparing for a service at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Memorial Funeral Home. They have asked for donations to the National Lyme Disease Association because they know - through Cooper’s letter - how important Lyme disease education can be.

"I hope that whoever reads this letter will have better understanding of what it is like to live like this," Cooper wrote. "Please, I need all the support I can get because I am not getting better only worse."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Crippling disease sweeps Indian Ocean island

PARIS (AFP) - Doctors on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion are battling an epidemic of a crippling mosquito-borne disease that has no known cure, French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said.

About 7,200 cases of "chikungunya" had been recorded, including 1,600 cases last week alone, the minister told the French upper house.

"It is a major public-health issue," he told senators.

Chikungunya is Swahili for "that which bends up" and refers to the stooped posture of those afflicted by the non-fatal disease for which there is no known vaccine or cure.

Authorities on the volcanic island east of Madagascar, a French overseas department with a population of 760,000, have earmarked 600,000 euros (720,000 dollars) to fight the outbreak, including special mosquito-eradication brigades.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kym Cooper, 1968-2006

Columbia Daily Tribune, Columbia, MO
Kimberly Ann "Kym" Nagle Cooper, 37, of Columbia passed away Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, at her home after a long battle with Lyme disease.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, at Memorial Funeral Home with Adam Boster officiating.

Kym was born Aug. 2, 1968, to Steve and Susan Telin Nagle at Fort Leonard Wood.

Survivors include her mother, Susan Cooper, and stepfather, Gary, of Columbia; her father, Steve Nagle, and stepmother, Robyn, of St. Louis; three sisters, Steffany Boster and her husband, Adam, of Columbia, Margaret Nagle of St. Louis and Alecia Nagle of Redlands, Calif.; one brother, Robert Nagle of St. Louis; and four nieces and nephews, Jace, McKayley, Faith and Lukas Lee Boster.

Kym is remembered for her love of family, music, dancing and the great Missouri outdoors.

In her childhood she studied gymnastics, which grew into a lifelong love of modern dance. She was an accomplished swimmer and especially enjoyed her many visits to Finger Lake State Park and Rock Bridge State Park. Last summer, Kym rescued a small boy from drowning in a backyard pool. Before contracting Lyme disease, she served as a licensed practical nurse and is remembered for her kind heart and special skills as activities director working with senior citizens at Fayette Nursing Home.

Family is recommending donations be made to the National Lyme Disease Association Inc., a not-for-profit corporation, through the association’s Web site, www.lymediseaseassociation.org, or directly to the Lyme Disease Association Inc., P.O. Box 1438, Jackson, N.J., 08527.

Tributes can be left online at www.memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com

Monday, January 16, 2006

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Study: Napoleon's Army Destroyed by Lice

Discovery Channel News
Lice played a key role in Napoleon Bonaparte's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, according to genetic research into the skeletal remains of the ill-fated army.

Napoleon marched into Russia in the summer of 1812, leading the largest army Europe had ever seen, some half million soldiers, toward Moscow.

The invasion was the French emperor's answer to tzar Alexander I's refusal of the Continental System, a system of economic preference and protection within Europe aimed to exclude British trade and reinforce the French economy at the expense of the other states.

Six months later, the Grande Armée was reduced to 25,000 men who retreated to Vilnius, Lithuania, in the freezing cold. Only 3,000 survived the war, weather and disease to continue the retreat. The dead were buried in mass graves.

One such grave, containing between 2,000 and 3,000 corpses, was discovered in 2001 in Vilnius during some construction work.

Analysis of the remains produced hard genetic evidence that louse-borne pathogens were a major factor in the French retreat from Russia, Didier Raoult, of the Université de la Méditerranée in Marseille, and colleagues reported in the January issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

"We believe that louse-borne diseases caused much of the death of Napoleon's army," Raoult told Discovery News.

Human body lice transmit Borrelia recurrentis, Bartonella quintana and Rickettsia prowazekii, the agents of louse-borne relapsing fever, trench fever and epidemic typhus, respectively.

Raoult and colleagues analyzed two kilograms of earth from the mass grave containing bone fragments and remnants of clothing and identified body segments of five lice.

Three of them carried DNA from relapsing fever.

The scientists then analyzed dental pulp from 72 teeth, taken from the remains of 35 soldiers. The sequencing revealed DNA of Bartonella quintana in seven soldiers.

"We believe that these findings provide firm evidence that the soldiers had trench fever," wrote the researchers.

The team also detected the DNA of Rickettsia prowazekii in three other soldiers, indicating that Napoleon's army also suffered from epidemic typhus.

Overall, nearly one-third of Napoleon's soldiers buried in Vilnius were affected by louse-borne infectious diseases, the researchers concluded.

"This is very important and exciting research because it provides compelling physical evidence for the impact of louse-borne diseases on Grand Army troops during Napoleon's invasion of, and retreat from, Russia," Robert Peterson, an expert of insect ecology and agricultural and biological risk assessment at Montana State University, told Discovery News.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Neuropathy Mystery Solved. New Study proves electronic ReBuilder System Effective for Neuropathy.

PR Web via Yahoo! News
ReBuilder Medical, Inc. today released an independant study of 480 patients over a 3 year period. Results showed that compared to a placebo, the Anodyne and ReVitamed Infrared systems, and Pfizer's and Eli Lilly's drug therapies, the double blind study demonstrated a 95% response rate to the ReBuilder home therapy. (The competitive Anodyne and Revitamed quipment fared no better than the placebo, while the prescription drugs offered only a 45% improvement and serious side effects.)

Neuropathy is a major complication of diabetes and 60% of those with diabetes will develop the tingling, numbness, and pain of neuropathy in thier feet and hands. Currently the most common treatment is drug related, but the side effects of drugs are many times worse than the disease. Pfizer was recently fined by the US government for the use of Neuronton for neuropathy. Other electronic devices (infrared) that merely heat the feet have been tried unseccessfully. The ReBuilderuses a tiny electrical signal that mimmics the normal nerve signal to wake up dormant nerves that were temporarily restricted due to temporary bouts of oxigen deprivation. The patient uses the system in the privacy of his own home.

David B. Phillips, Ph.D. the inventor of the ReBuilder System for Neuropathy says "We studied all the common denominators that triggered neuropathy and found that each one related to oxygen deprevation. We designed our system to treat that and the results have been amazing." Dr. Phillips won the prestigious Inventor of the Year Award in 1987 for inventing the infrared ear thermometer that is used all over the world today. He develooped the ReBuilder System for his father who developed nbeuropathy.

Patients have reported success in reducing the pain and numbness of peripheral neuropathy, restless leg syndrome, MS, Post
Polio Syndrome, lower back and sciatic nerve pain. Many cases of neuropathy are caused by chemotherapy, lyme's disease, prescription medicianes like Statins and high blood pressure medicines, and environmental toxins. The ReBuilder System has no side effects and is simple to use.

The ReBuilder is FDA approved, Medicare approved, and is certified by the American Association of Emerging Technologies to comply with the guidelines proffered by the American Medical Association for clinically reliable medical equipment.

At a retail cost of $399, the ReBuilder is the preferred treatment of choice. Painless and comfortable, the majority of patients studied reported that over 90% of their symptoms Were cured in less than three comfortable 30 minute treatments.

33% of the patients studied were treated with the Anodyne system and 33% with the ReVitadyne therapies that use infrared lights to merely heat the feet. In a recent edition of Diabetes Care the official journal for the American Diabetes Association, it was reporeted that these infrared light systems were ineffective in increasing sensitivity in the feet of people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

Rebuilder proved vastly superior to both modalites and compared to their cost of $2,900, the ReBuilder is an effective treatment system.

ReBuilder Medical Inc. is looking for venture capital to fund the development of an electronic system to detect allergies electronically. the company claims it has the technology to send the patient home with a small battery operated device that will record the patient's response when he merely touches a suspected allergen. In this way a patient can touch things like pets, mates perfunes and medicines etc that t=a physician would not normally have samples of in his office. The test is non invasive and perfect for children.

The company is negotiating for the inclusion of the ReBuilder System for Neuropathy into 750 neurologist's private practices in 2006. Currently Nova Care, Cleaveland Clinic, and the VA offer the ReBuilder.

The company sells the ReBuilder System directly to the patient via the internet. More information is available at http://www.rebuildermedical.com or Toll Free 1-866-725-2202.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Her agony had a name: Lyme disease

The Free Lance-Star - Fredericksburg,VA,USA

In the early fall of 1999, a small deer tick feasted on Frances Bishopp's upper thigh. Writing it off as nothing more than a spider bite, Bishopp didn't get alarmed by the red bull's-eye rash that developed.

But over the next two years, the 62-year-old Fredericksburg resident experienced much more than just a rash.

"I began to develop Lyme [disease] symptoms, though at the time I didn't know that's what they were," Bishopp said. "First, my eyes were glued shut with conjunctivitis; I thought it was allergies. Then I became very, very tired, to the point of fatigue; I thought it was my job."

Next came chronic lower back pain. And when Bishopp started putting in 17-hour days commuting to Washington by train, she began to experience dizziness.

She said she felt like she was "bouncing off the walls when I walked; it was terrible vertigo."

Her weekends meant time in bed, and eventually she had to leave her job.

No one seemed to understand.

"She's such a high energy person," said one of her two daughters, Cameron Bishopp. "To see her feeling so sick that she couldn't get out of bed was such an amazing thing for her to go through."

Two years, six diagnoses, and an array of doctors later, Bishopp was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease.

"I went to every doctor in this town, I swear," Bishopp said. "I went to a [general practitioner], a neurologist, allergists, orthopods. I had a [CT] scan. I was diagnosed with epilepsy, fibromyalgia, generalized anxiety disorder, extreme fatigue. I was crazy because I couldn't get well. I thought I had lost my mind."

After six weeks of visiting a holistic doctor, the results of her Lyme disease test came back positive.

In September of 2002, Bishopp began antibiotics treatment. But the treatment didn't cure her. Her weekends in bed turned into weeks. And for two years after the diagnosis, Bishopp said she left her bed only to go to the emergency room or for her treatment.

Her search for a cure sent her to specialists in North Carolina, where she was treated with different antibiotics for five months.

Now, more than five years after her encounter with the tick, Bishopp is much better, but still recovering.

Her trip to the North Carolina specialist, she said, "was the beginning of my education of my horrible disease."

"The frightening thing about it is so many people don't know they have it," Bishopp said.
'A hideous disease'

Lyme disease was first discovered in Lyme, Conn., in 1981 after a group of children were all diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Thinking this was an odd diagnosis for children, Dr. Willy Burgdorfer began to investigate.

He discovered the children were actually suffering from a spirochete bacteria, infested in them by black-legged ticks. The disease became known as Lyme.

Lyme disease is usually characterized by a bull's-eye rash, such as the one Bishopp had. It's known as the erythema migrans, and along with it, sufferers also often experience flulike symptoms at first.

The rash appears as the body's way of attacking the foreign bacteria. But when the rash disappears, it may not mean the disease is gone.

"Lyme disease is a hideous disease that can affect any organ in your body," said Lucy Barnes, an employee of Lyme Disease Education and Support Diseases of Maryland.

The reason Lyme can go undetected and undiagnosed for so long is because the bacteria, undeterred by the rash, can hide inside cells. This can keep the immune system from detecting and attacking the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 19,804 cases of Lyme disease were reported in 2004. However, for every one case of Lyme disease reported, 10 go missed, the CDC estimates.

The disease can impair the brain, the nervous system and the heart, as well as cause chronic arthritis, hepatitis, and extreme fatigue, according to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

The Lyme Disease Association notes that if caught early enough, before the bacteria spreads inside the cells, Lyme disease can be treated and people can recover quickly. But if undiagnosed, such as in the case with Bishopp, it can cause lifelong health problems.

Both Bishopp and Barnes recommend that patients who suspect they have been infected by a tick insist on being tested and treated immediately.

"Back in the '80s, before people really knew about it much, doctors said it was a virus and no treatment was necessary or available," Barnes said. "They found out later that they were completely wrong."

Unfortunately for Barnes, they found this out too late. She said she was finally diagnosed when she staged a sit-in at her doctor's office, refusing to leave until she was tested for Lyme disease.

Barnes, who is known as Tin Cup in her "After the Bite" chat rooms and other intimate Lyme disease circles, was bitten by a tick when she worked as a park ranger in Virginia state parks. Her bout with the disease has left her legally blind and permanently disabled, she said. Since being treated, she said she has learned to walk again, talk again and get out of bed for the first time in years.

And now Barnes is taking an advocacy role, working to educate doctors and victims of the disease. She met Bishopp a few years ago, when Bishopp went online looking for answers.

"She was pretty much a basketcase when she got online. Most people are because they are so desperate for answers," Barnes said in a phone interview.

Barnes said for people in Bishopp's position, it's important to go back out into the world, but it's very difficult.

"She's got a long road to go still," Barnes said of Bishopp, "but she's starting to function again and she's able to enjoy some life for a change. She has come a long way from where she was. I can hear laughter in her voice, a smile that was never there."
Debate over treatment

Barnes' organization is just one of a number attempting to better unravel the mysteries of Lyme disease.

Because symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to many other diseases, doctors have a hard time diagnosing it. The only identifying characteristic of Lyme disease, the bull's-eye rash, is absent in one-fourth of all patients, making it even more difficult to find.

Lyme disease is also hard to detect because symptoms come and go, and oftentimes doctors and patients do not connect them with one another.

This similarity to other diseases and lack of consistent symptoms has led to much dissension in the medical world.

Dr. Geoffrey Gubb, a physician from Parksley, Va., who has done significant research in the area of Lyme disease, said both patients and doctors are missing diagnoses.

"There is this huge difference of opinion between the people who are treating a lot of Lyme and those who are in the infectious disease societies," Gubb said.

Doctors disagree over how to properly test for the disease, as well as diagnose it.

According to the Serodiagnosis of Lyme Disease, a paper written for the CDC, "The diagnosis of Lyme disease is based principally on clinical manifestations and history of exposure to vector ticks in an area where Lyme disease is endemic."

However, Gubb and some other Lyme doctors disagree with this. He said "clinical manifestation" implies physical symptoms, and those are hard to pinpoint, and often inconsistent from one patient to the next.

Aside from the medical quarreling, Gubb said he thinks the biggest problem connected to Lyme disease is the growing population of deer.

"We have to get serious about killing ticks, eradicating them," he said.

While the peak time to contract Lyme disease is in the spring and summer, Barnes noted that it is important to remember that ticks can live in winter weather conditions as well.

"With 80 percent snow cover, ticks can be active," Barnes said. "So hunters especially, and park rangers, are at high risk."
'I couldn't really understand'

Bishopp still has a long way to go on her road to recovery. But her future looks hopeful.

"I was just home for Thanksgiving," said Cameron Bishopp, her daughter. "She was up, and she was a different woman. To be able to see her up and moving around for the first time in years, I can't even tell you how thankful we are."

Bishopp said she is very grateful for her strong support system of family and friends.

She's become determined to help others with Lyme disease avoid the kind of suffering she's experienced. And she's grown more confident in herself.

"I intend to beat it, because I'm a fighter," she said.

To overcome Lyme disease, patients must be very proactive about their health care and aggressively seek the proper diagnosis, Bishopp's daughter Cameron said.

"My mother did so much research and became so educated on it, and that was so important," Cameron Bishopp said. "I always felt bad because I couldn't really understand. I never could fathom how this feels."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Diseases of the Mind

Olga Skipko has had the good fortune to live most of her adult life in the Polish village of Gruszki, in the heart of the Puszcza Bialowieska, one of Europe’s most beautiful forests and home to wolves, lynxes and the endangered European bison. Unfortunately, the forest is also a breeding ground for disease-carrying ticks. Skipko, 49, thinks she was bitten about 10 years ago, when she began having the classic symptoms of Lyme borreliosis, a tickborne nervous-system disease: headaches and aching joints. She didn’t get treatment until 1998. “I was treated with antibiotics and felt a bit better,” she says.

That was only the beginning of her troubles. A few years later, she began to forget things and her speaking grew labored. It got so bad that she had to quit her job in a nursery forest and check herself in to a psychiatric clinic. “I hope they will help me,” she says. “I promised my children that when I come back home, I will be able to do my favorite crosswords again.” Doctors ran a battery of tests and concluded that her mental problems were the advanced stage of the Lyme disease she had contracted years ago.

Scientists have long known that some diseases can cause behavioral problems. When penicillin was first used to treat syphilis, thousands of cured schizophrenics were released from mental asylums. Now, however, scientists have evidence that infections may play a far bigger role in mental illness than previously thought. They’ve linked cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to a variety of infectious agents, and they’re investigating autism, Tourette’s and anorexia as well. They’re beginning to suspect that bad bugs may cause a great many other mental disorders, too. “The irony is that people talked about syphilis as the ‘great imitator’,” says University of Louisville biologist Paul Ewald, “but it may be the ‘great illustrator’—a model for understanding the causes of chronic diseases.”

Mental illnesses constitute a large and growing portion of the world’s health problems. According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the most debilitating of diseases, on a par with paraplegia. Psychiatric illnesses make up more than 10 percent of the world’s “disease burden” (a measure of how debilitating a disease is), and are expected to increase to 15 percent by 2020. Much of this may be the work of viruses, bacteria and parasites. Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Maryland, has found from studying historical asylum records that hot spots—higher-than-normal incidences—of mental illness can shift, much like infectious-disease outbreaks, which lends credence to the notion that infectious agents play a big role. “Mental disorders are the major chronic recurrent disorders of youth in all developed countries,” says Harvard policy expert Ronald Kessler, who directs the WHO’s mental-health surveys.

Perhaps the most well known disease that’s been linked to mental disorders is Lyme disease, which is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi germ. First identified in the mid-1970s among children near Lyme, Connecticut, the disease has long been known to cause nervous-system problems and achy joints if left untreated. Now scientists are finding that Lyme disease can also trigger a whole smorgasbord of psychiatric symptoms, including depression. One New York man (we’ll call him Joe) found out firsthand how debilitating the disease can be. When he began having bouts of major depression back in 1992, he had forgotten all about the tick bite he had gotten four years earlier. He spent two years in a blur of antipsychotic drugs, mental institutions, jails and suicide attempts. On a hunch, a doctor at a psychiatric hospital in New Jersey had Joe tested for Lyme disease. After an intensive course of antibiotics, Joe’s improvement was dramatic and immediate. “I started to have this fog lift,” he recalls. Still, he will probably have to be on psychotropic drugs for the rest of his life.

Some psychiatrists fret that there may be thousands of people suffering from Lyme-induced depression without knowing why. Not only is Lyme disease tricky to diagnose—not everybody gets the circular rash, and lab tests still aren’t wholly reliable—it can take a decade or more for mental disorders to set in. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that nine out of 10 cases of Lyme diseases remain unreported. There are 15 species of borellias—making them the most common tickborne disease-producing bacteria in the world.

For its part, the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in undercooked meat and cat feces, can lead to full-blown psychotic episodes. Some studies suggest that the parasite stimulates the production of a chemical similar to LSD, producing hallucinations and psychosis. Even when the parasite lies dormant in muscle and brain tissue, it can affect attention span and reaction time in otherwise healthy people. Researchers at Charles University in Prague have discovered that people who test positive have slightly slower-than-average reaction times and—possibly as a result—are almost three times as likely to have car accidents. That’s a disturbing prospect, considering that the disease is so widespread: billions of people are thought to be infected.

Even a simple sore throat can lead to psychiatric problems. Few children avoid coming down with a streptococcus infection, also known as strep. Scientists now think that one in 1,000 strep sufferers also develops abrupt-onset obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in a matter of weeks. Strep bacteria trigger OCD by igniting an overzealous response from the immune system, which attacks certain types of brain cells, causing inflammation. Symptoms generally die down after a few months but can flare up again, especially if there’s another bout of strep, says Susan Swedo, a childhood-disease expert at the National Institutes of Health. The most effective treatment, still experimental, is to filter out the misbehaving antibodies from the blood. Best is to treat strep early on.

The specter of a depression germ or contagious obsessive-compulsive disorder is unnerving, but it also opens up many more treatment options—antibiotics, vaccines, checking for ticks. Geneticists believe that diseases may trigger the onset of inherited mental illnesses by activating key genes. Avoiding and treating infection may be just as important as the genes you inherit, and a whole lot easier to do something about.

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