Lyme Disease (not Lymes) and Tick Bites
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Lyme disease (NOT Lymes disease) is also referred to as Lyme Borreliosis, an indication of the cause of this often-debilitating condition—the pleomorphic Borrelia bacteria transmitted by ticks and other biting insects.
Borrelia burgdorferi, the species most discussed, is predominantly transmitted via ticks from deer, sheep or dog. The tick bites the human, and can remain attached for hours/weeks, regurgitating into the bloodstream, passing Borrelia and other pathogens to the human host.
Borrelia is pleiomorphic—which means it has many shapes/forms. The spirochaetal form is the active form. In this corkscrew-shaped form, Borrelia can attack multiple organ systems, thus causing widespread disruption to health. In its inactive (non-spirochaetal) forms, antibiotic therapy is ineffective. Borrelia also form biofilm-like colonies to survive unfavourable conditions.
Borrelia is difficult to kill because it has a stealth mode—an ability to evade destruction by the host immune system by mutating its gene structure and outer surface proteins. Additionally, Borrelia actively suppresses innate and adaptive immune systems where it causes widespread disruption and inflammation, and suppresses detoxification. So Borrelia can avoid the body's usual immune defences AND these microorganisms can dampen any immune defences the body usually would use to attack the infection. This is why these microorganisms cause so many symptoms--chief among these is sapping energy for the body cells to do all usual functions.
Lyme disease (NOT Lymes—sorry to have a rant once again!) was first reported in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, USA where a cluster of children and adults experienced uncommon arthritic-like symptoms. In 1977, the Ixodes scapularis tick was linked to transmission of the disease. It was not until 1982 that William Burgdorfer identified the bacteria as its cause.
Borrelia burgdorferi is, however, a 15-million-year-old bacterium, with its oldest known carrier being 5300-year-old Otzi-the-Iceman who was determined to be infected with Lyme spirochetes when he died.
Although not a new phenomenon, Lyme borreliosis is an emerging disease with increasing incidence—likely associated with both climate change and Western lifestyle.
Although May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, ticks are most active April to September.
Not all tick bites result in acute Lyme disease. Not everyone who is infected with Borrelia burgdorferi via a tick bite displays symptoms; if the immune system is healthy, the infection may remain dormant for years.
Symptoms manifest in 3 stages—affecting skin, organs, joints and neurological health. In the first, acute, stage, 25-40% develop erythema migrans—a rash which often appears shaped as a ‘bull’s eye’. Other symptoms include headache, flu-like symptoms, stiff neck, fatigue and sometimes Bell’s palsy. The rash can spread all over the body and re-appear months/years later.
In stage 2, symptoms include migrant arthritis, pain/weakness in arms/legs, appetite-loss and neurological symptoms such as memory loss. Joint pain is common but not in all cases.
Stage 3 symptoms include fatigue, memory loss, arthritis, heart rhythm abnormalities and nervous system abnormalities.
If you are bitten by a tick, use a tick remover tool. Don't try to kill the tick before removing it. Engage the hook by approaching the tick from the side until it is held. Then lift the hook very lightly and turn it (sometimes can slide forward--but don't try to pull the tick). The tick detaches by itself after two or three rotations. After removing the tick, check if any parts remain. Then disinfect the bite area.