There's been a big increase in mouse populations in many places over the past year. As a result, the number of ticks is booming, and you have a greater chance of being bitten when you go outside. Could a bite put you in danger from Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is the name given to a constellation of symptoms in reaction to infection with a tick-borne pathogen called Borrelia burgdorferi. The black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis, is the usual culprit in transmitting this germ. Black-legged ticks feed on white-tailed deer and white-footed mice as well as humans, hence the name "deer tick."
The infection can produce a rash (though it doesn't always), along with fever, chills, joint pain, fatigue, headache and flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, Borrelia infection can cause more serious symptoms, including arthritis, pain in muscles and tendons, heart symptoms due to inflammation of the heart muscle and neurological symptoms from inflammation of nerve tissue. Some people also experience brain fog or problems with memory and concentration.
Both of our guests on today's show are physicians, and both have suffered with Lyme disease that went undiagnosed and untreated for many years. In Dr. Spector's case, the primary symptoms were heart rhythm abnormalities as the infection destroyed his heart. He eventually needed a heart transplant.
Dr. Rawls also had cardiac symptoms, in addition to fatigue and many other problems. When he finally figured out what was happening to him, he developed a multi-modal treatment plan incorporating herbs to modulate his immune reaction. He also wrote a book, Unlocking Lyme.
While a bulls-eye rash is usually thought of as the signal of Lyme disease, not all target-shaped rashes are the result of Lyme, and quite a few people with Lyme disease never notice a rash. Indeed, some are unaware of having been bitten by a tick.
Lyme disease diagnosis is not as straightforward as the diagnosis for certain other diseases. The laboratory tests need to be interpreted by a clinician who is experienced in the use of two-tiered testing.
When patients feel they need to take control for themselves, one resource is ILADS: The International Lyme and Associate Diseases Society. http://www.ilads.org
There is also more information on this website about other tick-borne infections. We discussed Lyme disease, Bartonellosis and alpha-gal allergy in Show 1003. Show 907 covered Bartonella infections in detail.
Neil Spector, MD, is an associate professor of medicine as well as pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University Medical Center. He holds the Sandra Coates chair in breast cancer research. Dr. Spector 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.
Bill Rawls, MD, is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology. He has written about Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and chronic immune system dysfunction. His books include Unlocking Lyme: Myths, Truths and Practical Solutions and Suffered Long Enough. His website is rawlsmd.com