Lyme Disease Is Spreading Nationwide: Misdiagnosis Is More Common Than You Think
It’s tick season.
The days are getting longer. Many of us are spending more time outdoors, enjoying the early summer months. Now, more than ever, is a good time to be on the lookout for ticks.
Deer ticks, otherwise known as the blacklegged tick, are one of the main vectors for Lyme disease. During the summer, they are at their maturity in their lifecycle and looking for large mammals to feed on – this includes human hosts.
An infected tick carrying Lyme disease could be no larger than a poppy seed and cause flu-like symptoms that are difficult to treat. As a result, Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or psychiatric disorders like depression!
According to Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, many more ticks than usual will be carrying Lyme disease this summer season. (1)
Lyme disease is caused by an infection with the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. Borrelia is known to survive specifically in deer ticks.
As Dr. Ostfeld explained during the International Conference of Emerging Infectious Diseases (ICEID), 2011 saw a population explosion of white-footed mice. This just happens to coincide with the two-year lifecycle of ticks that can possibly transmit Lyme disease.
This means in that in 2012 the northeastern United States faces possibly the worst season yet for Lyme disease. Because Lyme disease is spreading throughout the United States and showing up as far west as California, Lyme awareness is essential.
Deer ticks can be tough to spot. They go through three cycles of feeding during their two-year lifespan. In the second stage of their life, an infectious tick is no larger than a poppy seed.
Even if you know how to spot a tick or a tick bite, many people never know they have been bitten.
Classic signs of a bite and symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- A large “bull’s-eye” rash surrounding the area of the bite. This rash is typically warm to the touch, surrounded by a red ring, and has a clear center.
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and headache.
- Symptoms appear within 7-10 days following an infected tick’s bite.
Why Lyme Disease Is Commonly Misdiagnosed
When it comes to Lyme disease, those who are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi are commonly diagnosed as having another chronic health condition.
Lyme disease affects each person differently. Those with Lyme will commonly suffer from severe musculoskeletal pain and from neurological symptoms. Examples of common misdiagnoses are:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Arthritis (rheumatoid, reactive, infectious, juvenile, or osteoarthritis)
- Autoimmune conditions, such as Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBs)
- Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Ménière’s syndrome
- Early Alzheimer’s or early Parkinson’s disease
- Psychiatric disorders (like bipolar or depression)
The problem with a misdiagnosis is that the infection never receives proper treatment. Slowly, an individual’s health can deteriorate.
While there are tests that look for evidence of Lyme disease, these tests come with their own set of challenges. All too often, the tests that screen for Lyme disease will give a false negative. A false negative means that the infection is there, even though it does not show up in a blood test.
The Challenge of Treating Lyme Disease
The active form of the bacteria is a spirochete, or a spiral shaped bug. In this form, Borrelia reproduces and grows. Unfortunately, this is the only form of Borrelia that is susceptible to antibiotic therapy. In its other forms, which number an estimated 9 to 30 different forms, the bacteria are able to evade antibiotic therapy. (2)
The CDC recommends a short course of antibiotic therapy, roughly about 3 weeks long. While a short course of antibiotics can be extremely effective during the initial stages of an infection, many times treatment requires more time. This is especially true when Lyme disease is missed or if the bacteria go into hiding by assuming another form. For this reason, many Lyme disease patients only feel an improvement with long-term antibiotic use.
Managing Chronic Lyme Disease
The protocol recommended by the CDC and used by most physicians is a short course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, this is often ineffective, and long-term treatment is necessary.
Diet is important. Food can either weaken or overburden the immune system. When fighting Lyme disease, the last thing that the body needs is more work.
Remember: These same steps apply to any situation where the body requires all the immune force that it can muster, including the systemic infection we see in Lyme disease.
Find a Lyme literate doctor in your area for more help:
What to Remember Most About This Article:
Many of us don’t realize that Lyme disease is four times more common than an HIV infection in the US! Even worse, there is very little awareness about the disease, and few doctors know how to treat it effectively.
Lyme disease is spreading from coast-to-coast, and infected ticks may be as small as a poppy seed. Symptoms of Lyme disease can appear as the common flu, including fatigue, fever, chills, and a headache. It’s no wonder that Lyme disease is commonly misdiagnosed and confused with a wide range of serious disorders, like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and even early Alzheimer’s disease.
When Lyme disease is misdiagnosed, it’s difficult to receive proper treatment. Many doctors may recommend antibiotic therapy, which may not work at first so that long-term treatment is necessary.
To protect yourself from the everyday dangers of Lyme disease, it’s more important than ever to boost your immune health with fermented foods and probiotic beverages! When fighting Lyme disease, you can support your health with a beneficial diet that won’t overburden your immune system.
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- Osterfeld R. “Ecological Drivers of Tickborne Diseases in North America.” 8th International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, Atlanta, Ga. March 13, 2012.
- Sapi, Eva. Evaluation of in-vitro antibiotic susceptibility of different morphological forms of Borrelia burgdorferi. Infection and Drug Resistance. May 2011; 4 (1): 97 – 113.