The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1003: From Lyme to Alpha-Gal: The Latest on Tick-Borne Diseases

There are many tick-borne diseases that are inadequately recognized. We get an update on Bartonella, Lyme disease and alpha-gal allergy.
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From Lyme to Alpha-Gal

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Tick-borne diseases are extremely widespread, but they seem to be difficult to diagnose and hard to treat. Science has now recognized many more conditions that result from tick bites than were known even a decade ago.

Lyme Disease:

The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by a deer tick bite, remains surprisingly controversial. (See the CDC’s latest update here.) Some experts are skeptical that Lyme disease can linger and cause chronic inflammation and suffering. We talk with a doctor who had trouble getting his colleagues to acknowledge his own Lyme infection. After years of untreated infection, the Borrelia destroyed his heart and he needed a transplant.


We also discuss the common co-occurrence of other infections that can be transmitted by ticks, along with or instead of Lyme disease. Our guest, a rheumatologist, has worked with a veterinarian who developed a diagnostic test for Bartonella. What are the symptoms of this infection, and how can it be treated?

Alpha-Gal Allergy:

We complete our update with another look at alpha-gal allergy. This reaction to the bite of a lone star tick results in cross reactivity to mammalian meat. Eating bacon, a hamburger or a lamb chop could result in a serious situation of hives, wheezing or a trip to the emergency department several hours later. What should you know about alpha-gal?

This Week’s Guests:

Neil Spector, MD, is a medical oncologist, an associate professor of medicine, pharmacology and cancer biology. He holds the Sandra P. Coates chair in breast cancer research at Duke University Medical Center. He co-directs the experimental therapeutics program for the Duke Cancer Institute and is a Komen scholar. His book is: Gone in a Heartbeat: A Physician’s Search for True Healing. It tells a powerful story of his experience with Lyme disease and how a misdiagnosis led to the need for a heart transplant. The photo is of Dr. Spector. Follow him on Facebook.

Robert Mozayeni, MD, is a rheumatologist specializing in chronic inflammatory diseases with neuro-vascular as well as rheumatic manifestations. Dr. Mozayeni is founder and executive director of the Translational Medicine Group and chief medical officer of Galaxy Diagnostics. He is also co-founder and medical director of the Foundation for the Study of Inflammatory Diseases. More information about Bartonella here.

Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of Virginia and head of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. He is past president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI).

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    I found a Lone Star Tick in my groin recently. I went to a Clinic where a Doctor removed the tick and did a blood test which must have been negative as I have not had a result. The tick was not engorged but the spot itched for a week. Sometime after this I found a had small raised itchy spots in my groin and other places, like my back. These too itched. Of course I scratched these areas and used anti-itch creams. Scabs formed, the itching stopped and now my skin is clear.

    Is this related to Alpha-Gal?
    Another question: Some non medical person did that Deer Ticks do not bit when the weather is extremely hot. Is this true. As I remember it, I was bitten when the weather was relatively cool, in May, November and December

    I was diaganosed with Alpha-Gal a year and a half ago, after a trip to the ER. Prior to this, I was rarely ill, exercised daily, and ate very healthy food (very little processed food). I had been bitten by chiggers a month prior but do not recall a tick bite, although it is possible that I didn’t realize it. Since that time my health has gotten progressively worse even though I avoid any foods with mammal by-product.

    Several people had asked me about Lyme Disease, and as I learn about it, I have so many of the symptoms. My GI doctor (prior to this stuff I only went to a doctor for yearly checkup) suspected autoimmune or something connected to the tick/chigger bite since the symptoms all began at that time. I do not want to go on antibiotics after reading that they may not be all that effective after the first few weeks. Also my intestines are all messed up, and I don’t want more damage. I will be researching more natural treatments.

    If you test less than .35 on Alpha Gal Blood test, is it possible to still have problems from this disease?

    I would like to know whether people with alpha-gal tick allergy can also contract Lyme disease. I have not seen/heard of anyone who has both these conditions. Thank you.

    I have had both Lyme and Alpha-gal.

    I went to see my family doctor, because I had been bitten by a tick, and even though I had all the symptoms of vomiting, arthritis, etc. over a three week period and it was confirmed by the doctor in emerg., my family doctor wrote in my file that I had a mosquito bite. He also told me he never goes to those day-long education sessions, because, he said, they are just too social and a waste of time, so obviously doesn’t keep up on what’s new. Fortunately I did not get Lyme Disease, but a prominent winemaker in our area, Niagara, died of it.

    Enjoyed this episode very much and it was very informative. I have been diagnosed with the Alpha Gal Allergy after many visits to Urgent Care or the ER in the middle of the night with hives, low BP, etc. After diagnosis, I have been able to control this simply by avoidance of beef or pork. I do want to share that one must be diligent in avoiding by- products of these animals also. One of my worst reactions was to gummy bears (the candy). At the time, I did not know that many gelatin products can also be a culprit as ground up bones and cartilage evidently are in gelatin. Now I also research any medication before taking it to be sure it does not contain gelatin or make sure it is vegetarian.

    Once bitten, can another bite years later be a problem?

    I was diagnosed with Lyme disease after episodes of severe back pain, and treated with doxycycline. I am considered to be recovered, however, my thyroid levels have been rather unstable. Is it possible there is any relation to the Lyme Disease? Thanks.

    I have Alpha-Gal allergy and have been in the ER because of it. The last time was when I lived in Stillwater, OK. My blood pressure was dropping rapidly, and the ER staff administered an EpiPen. It was a jolt, but it brought me back. My primary care physician thinks this is all a bunch of hokum.

    Dr. Platts-Mills’ research is vital (literally).

    This is an important broadcast.

    If you don’t mind me asking, who is your doctor that you are seeing for this? I am trying to find a specialist.

    There is a growing community on Facebook, for all those dealing with this allergy. I have it too!

    I had what I thought was Lyme Disease twice in the 1990s but it was not confirmed by tests (which notoriously have a lot of false positives and negatives). Both times it was cured by intravenous Rocephin treatments when Doxycycline would only deal with the symptoms for a short time.

    The first time I took Doxycycline for months before the Rocephin but the second time my doctor moved more quickly. I moved to another city and recently I was bitten by a tick after which the symptoms started up. I sent the tick to the Lab of Medical Zoology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and it was evaluated as negative for: Lyme disease, Southern Tick Associated Rash (ISTAR), and Human Monocyclic Erlichiosis.

    I assume the lab is reputable but I know my symptoms are real and progressed over time. My doctor gave me a month of Doxycycline but has taken me off of it. I am concerned but don’t know what to do other than wait and see.

    Have you had a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) urine test yet?

    This usually involves about a series of 24-hr urine tests (pee in the jar all day) over about 5-6 weeks… what they do is add a reagent (??) that creates a chain of the spirochete’s DNA in the sample, which would look sort of like a microscopic “egg drop soup” … at least that’s how DR Z explained it to me… so I’d understand it. It there are NOT any spirochetes living/dying in your body, no DNA would show up. It’s not perfect, but is just about the most OBVIOUS way to get proof of life.
    My 6 tests were 5/6 positive…, and I ended up with a 6-month PICC line for Doxy.

    I have read so much about how difficult Lyme Disease is to diagnose and how it is a horrible illness. There are so many articles and scientific research stating this about Lyme, that I can’t understand why some doctors’ won’t believe the evidence. Lyme is especially hard to diagnose in the southern states because many doctors don’t want to believe the ticks can be this far south.

    I was diagnosed with Lyme disease over 20 years ago and had two rounds of intervenious antibiotic treatments and I seemed to be okay. We moved to Florida and 3 years ago I had a knee replaced. I have still not recovered and now learned that Lyme disease never leaves you and that I am allergic to molybdenum via the MELISA testing. My question is could it be the Lyme disease causing my troubles and if so, how is it treated?

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