Lyme disease is the latest epidemic in the United States, more specifically in the northeast, leaving Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties as the prime location for contraction. But what really is Lyme disease? How do we get it? How do we know when we have it?
You can Google these questions and find a wide variety of answers, but take it from someone who has experienced it all herself, those answers are not exactly responses you want to completely rely on. So how much do you really know about Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochetal bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi, which is most often found in ticks. Although the most common way to contract Lyme is from the bite of a tick, there is scientific evidence that Lyme can be transmitted through the placenta. Recent studies have also found that other biting insects, such as mosquitoes, may also pass along Lyme disease.
The spirochete bacteria are shaped like corkscrews, therefore allowing them to drill into any organ or body tissue they please. Their shape gives them this distinct advantage over escaping antibiotics and quickly spreading to parts of the body where they may be more difficult to find and get rid of. Spirochetes also have the advantage of drilling deep into tissue, hibernating and hiding from medicine and diagnostic tests. It has been found that the spirochete’s safest place to hide is the brain.
It is said that the most significant sign of Lyme disease is the bulls-eye rash, but really only half of the population who contracts Lyme will exhibit any type of rash or skin irritation. Other initial signs of Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, headaches and fever. Once again, these symptoms are not always present either. And finally, an ailment that most doctors will initially link to Lyme when no other cause is recognized is knee pain and stiffness, otherwise known as arthritis of the knees.
My suggestion is that, if you ever find a tick in your skin, remove it and go to the doctor to get tested—whether or not you experience a rash or sudden onset of symptoms. Lyme disease symptoms can take a few weeks to a few months before they kick in. If you really think you have Lyme disease and your test comes back negative, see a different doctor. The ELISA and Western Blot test for Lyme disease is set to certain guidelines that prevent diagnosis when appropriate. Better put, if you do not test “positive enough” for Lyme disease, you will simply be swept under the radar as Lyme-free when you actually are infected. This only leaves time for the bacteria to multiply and spread to other organs, causing you to become sicker later down the road.
If the diagnosis is missed, symptoms may (yet not always) advance to more serious issues. The list can be quite long, but some late-stage symptoms that I have experienced include neurological problems, heart complications and psychological issues. What many people are unaware of is that Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed for other illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, syphilis, mononucleosis, hypochondria, depression and fibromyalgia (just to name a few).
Lyme disease is typically treated with a four-week dose of antibiotics, most likely doxycycline. If symptoms persist, another 4 weeks may be administered. After that, many physicians will refuse to continue treating. It is at this point that they refer to the patient as having a “psychosomatic disorder” rather than Lyme disease. The controversy over whether or not chronic Lyme disease exists has become a very political and harsh battle. It is at this late-stage Lyme disease that many patients find it hard to receive treatment and proper care.
If you or someone you know is experiencing similar symptoms and/or misdiagnoses, it is in your best interest to see a different physician, and if possible a Lyme-literate doctor also known as “LLMD.” The following Web sites offer some insight and help: