Chronic Lyme disease is often blamed on a relapse of the initial borrelia bacteria infection. It has been believed that when someone with Lyme disease has been treated and recovers and then their symptoms return, that a relapse of the previous infection is to blame.
However a new study shows that this may not be the case.
About Lyme Disease
It is estimated that 30,000 or more cases of Lyme disease occur each year in the United States alone, and that the disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that is carried by deer ticks and is transmitted following a tick bite.
It often begins with an expanding zone of redness called erythema migrans around the tick bite, however this does not always occur.
Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms
Lyme disease can cause a wide range of symptoms and signs, which can come and go and often mimic many other diseases, making a diagnosis very difficult.
Some of the typical symptoms include:
Sore throat, fatigue, night sweats, low grade fever, stiff neck, migrating arthralgias, muscle pains, diarrhea, sleep disturbances, brain fog and memory problems, irritability, mood swings, depression, jaw pain, facial numbness or pain, tingling sensations, headaches, vertigo, tinnitus, and blurred vision.
In a study at The University of Pennsylvania and New York Medical College, in Valhalla, which was recently published in the New England of Medicine, researchers concluded new symptoms in those with previous Lyme disease come from new infections and are not relapses from the previous infection.
They determined this based on genetically fingerprinting the Lyme bacteria in people who have had the illness more than once, and finding that the fingerprints did not match.
The result means that different episodes of Lyme in each patient were caused by different strains of the bacteria, and could not have been relapses.
This goes against the previously held notion by some Lyme groups that the infection becomes chronic in many people and symptoms can come and go indicating a relapse of the same initial infection.
Various studies have found that long-term antibiotics for lyme disease do very little in many people who had already been treated for the borrelia infection but had such lingering problems.
However, a large group of people believe that Lyme disease bacteria can cause a chronic infection even after treatment.
The researchers wanted to test that idea by finding out whether people who had repeated bouts of the disease were actually having relapses or if they were actually re infected.
They looked at 17 patients who had the erythema migrans rash more than once between 1991 and 2011. Most had it twice, at least a year apart, but some patients had it three times and one had four cases.
Many had other symptoms as well, and more than half had signs of widespread systemic infection. All were treated, and recovered fully.
Lyme bacteria were grown from skin or blood samples taken from the patients when they had the rash, and the researchers analyzed a bacterial gene that varies from one strain to another.
They then compared the genes from different cases of the rash. The genotypes did not match, indicating that each rash represented a new infection, not a relapse.
These results supported previous research suggesting that new infections, not relapses, were the cause of new symptoms in people who had taken antibiotics to treat earlier episodes of the disease.
This study is only a small one and it cannot in my opinion be conclusive and indicate that in every patient with long term or chronic lyme disease that there are re-infections present. Further research needs to be done however to clarify this.
Advanced Lyme disease is often very resistant to antibiotic therapy and I believe that an alternative lyme disease treatment program is the key here.
There is not doubt that chronic lyme disease is becoming a huge epidemic beyond expectations and requires much more research from Governments world wide in order to arrest this escalating problem.