Cases of Lyme disease continue to increase across the globe, positioning the tick-borne disease as a verifiable crisis. Treating the disease appears to be something of a mystic art; many doctors don’t know how to handle Lyme at all, and are ill-informed about its symptoms and treatment plans. This is not entirely their fault, as Lyme disease continues to be one of the most controversial disorders out there. While its existence is accepted across the world, the CDC has repeatedly failed to legitimize chronic Lyme, an entirely different variant of the disease when compared to acute Lyme. On top of this, Lyme can often come hand-in-hand with a series of co-infections, originating from the one tick bite. These complicate the diagnostic process, and can often compound the original Lyme disease symptoms. So how exactly do we treat this debilitating disorder?
The crucial first step is differentiating between acute Lyme and chronic Lyme, as each requires a completely different treatment path. Acute Lyme occurs in the weeks following the offending tick bite. The most distinctive symptom is a bullseye rash, which is present in the majority of cases. Although this can be easily missed, as ticks often aim for sites on the body that are covered or hidden, if it is found, Lyme disease is a near certainty. The rash will also be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, typical of the onset of a standard influenza infection. If it’s caught at this stage, Lyme is relatively easy to treat, and most doctors will be able to eradicate the infection successfully. This is achieved via a round of the antibiotics doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime, which are all effective in treating the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
However, problems arise if the Lyme infection is missed, or written off as a bout of common flu. The initial flu-like symptoms are often not severe, and Lyme does not present as something like “the worst flu you’ve ever had.” In fact, it can be quite mundane, and therefore easier to dismiss. The symptoms themselves will be deceptive in this instance; although the Lyme infection is still in the body, during the transition from the acute to chronic stages a patient can often present with no symptoms at all. It’s important to keep in mind that Lyme is an incredibly hard to disease to pin down. As many of the symptoms present depend on the individual patient’s response to the infection, symptoms and reaction times can be wildly different from patient to patient. Some might feel the debilitating effects of chronic Lyme within weeks of the initial bite, whereas it might lie dormant in others for months or even years. As the initial symptoms subside, patients who haven’t made investigations into Lyme will merely think they are recovering from a case of flu.
When chronic Lyme rears its head, the treatment plan gets a lot more complicated. In this form, the symptoms will often be much more vague, and can vary wildly from one case to another. Muscle and joint pain will likely occur, as will as a chronic sense of fatigue and a general feeling of malaise. Facial numbness and a disturbing set of neurological complications are also relatively common. When Lyme is present in its chronic form, antibiotics alone will not remedy the infection. This is because most of the above symptoms are caused by the immune system’s response to the infection, not the bacteria itself. Essentially, the autoimmune response goes haywire, resulting in chronic inflammation and fatigue as it desperately tries to fight back against an infection it can’t really find. If co-infections are present, then symptoms could potentially degenerate, or new ones could present without warning; bear in mind, it is far more likely to catch Lyme with an accompanying co-infection than without.
The first treatment step for doctors is determining exactly what infections they’re dealing with. Tests for all the common co-infections like babesia, bartonellosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasma, and chlamydia pneumoniae should be conducted so both doctor and patient alike know what they are dealing with. Once that crucial fact is established, then treatment can begin in earnest. Successful treatment must involve a two-pronged attack: antibiotics to treat the underlying infection, and natural herbal supplements to reduce the inflammation symptoms. It can be more of one and a little of the other depending on specific test results, but the two undoubtedly have to work hand-in-hand when it comes to chronic Lyme. Not successfully treating the co-infections at the same time can easily result in a resurgence of symptoms, and possibly, over time, the onset of new, equally concerning ones.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is no overnight treatment for a tick-borne disease like chronic Lyme. The infection is a long-term one; it’s had plenty of time to settle into the body and establish itself in the system, so treatment can often be a slow, drawn-out process. There is also no vaccine of any kind available for the disease. We are still learning when it comes to Lyme disease, but as the condition becomes more visible, and new studies are initiated, the medical community will be better equipped to successfully treat it.