OHP: Chronic Lyme & Tick-borne Infections
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Chronic Lyme & Tick-Borne Infections

At Optimal Health Physicians (OHP), we have extensive experience in treating Tick-Borne Infections including persistent Lyme Disease Complex, including co-organisms of Barbesia and Bartonella and associated Lyme spirochete variants. Click on the titles below to read about each.

Infections that are carried to humans by carriers (known as "vectors") such as ticks and insects account for more than 60 percent of human infections. When such vectors move infections from animals (both wild and domestic) to humans, they are called zoonotic diseases. Lyme disease is one disease that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “an epidemic and the number one emerging infectious disease” in the United States.

“Lyme” disease can be narrowly defined as an infection with the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete (and close relative of the bacterium responsible for syphilis) originally identified as the cause of arthritis-like symptoms which were first described in the town of Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. In 1982, Dr. Willy Burgdorfer isolated the spirochete bacteria responsible for the disease, and determined that the carrier, or vector, for this bacterium from its animal hosts to humans was the deer tick. Since that time, a number of additional bacteria, viruses and parasites (including Bartonella, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia and Mycoplasma and the parasite Babesia) have been identified as being carried by the deer tick from mice and other small rodents and possibly birds, to humans. The term "Lyme disease" is often used today to include the original spirochete along with the "co-infections" caused by the other tick-borne infectious agents.

These pathogens can all lead to multiple infections with myriad symptoms, and short- and long-term illnesses. The large number of overlapping symptoms being caused by the possible combination of multiple infections that may or may not respond to a wide range of treatment regimens is what makes helping patients with these conditions both highly challenging and urgently needed in the medical community.

In our geographical region in the mid-Atlantic states, there is wide public awareness that the deer tick has infested the deer population, and that deer have become common visitors in residential suburban communities as well as the throughout the countryside.

Bartonellosis can be expected to have substantial significance as a Lyme disease co-infection. With regard to the health policy aspect, Lyme disease is more important because of its frequency. However, in this context it should be noted that bartonellosis has not been nearly as intensively investigated as Lyme disease. With the increasing development of laboratory tests, one may expect that the currently underestimated prevalence of bartonellosis will be more correctly registered in the future. The importance of this disease will also be determined on the basis of its frequency. Typically, the serology for Bartonella is frequently positive in patients with chronic Lyme disease.

Common symptoms of bartonellosis include:

  • Fatigue (often with agitation, unlike Lyme disease, which is more exhaustion)
  • Low grade fevers, especially morning and/or late afternoon, often associated with feelings of "coming down with the flu or a virus"
  • Sweats, often morning or late afternoon (sometimes at night) - often described as "thick" or "sticky" in nature
  • Headaches, especially frontal (often confused with sinus) or on top of head
  • Eye symptoms including episodes of blurred vision, red eyes, dry eyes
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and sometimes hearing problems (decreased or even increased sensitivity - so-called hyperacusis)
  • Sore throats (recurring)
  • Swollen glands, especially neck and under arms
  • Anxiety and worry attacks; others perceive as "very anxious"
  • Episodes of confusion and disorientation that are usually transient (and very scary); often can be seizure-like in nature
  • Poor sleep (especially difficulty falling asleep); poor sleep quality
  • Joint pain and stiffness (often both Left and Right sides as opposed to Lyme which is often on one side only with pain and stiffness that changes locations)
  • Muscle pains especially the calves; may be twitching and cramping also
  • Foot pain, more in the morning involving the heels or soles of the feet (sometimes misdiagnosed as plantar fasciitis)
  • Nerve irritation symptoms which can be described as burning, vibrating, numb, shooting, etc.
  • Tremors and/or muscle twitching
  • Heart palpitations and strange chest pains
  • Episodes of breathlessness
  • Strange rashes recurring on the body often, red stretch marks, and peculiar tender lumps and nodules along the sides of the legs or arms, spider veins
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, abdominal pain and acid reflux
  • Shin bone pain and tenderness

Bartonella is a bacterium that causes illness, the most commonly known of which is a disease called "Cat Scratch Fever." Thousands of known cases of Bartonella occur in the U.S. each Year, with the vast majority of known cases due to bites from fleas that infest cats or infected dogs (may also occur directly from bites and scratches from infected dogs or cats). Bartonella can also be transmitted by ticks that transmit Lyme Disease. In fact, in a study published recently, deer ticks from New Jersey had a higher prevalence of Bartonella organisms than of Lyme organisms.

It is unclear whether the organism that we see transmitted along with Lyme disease is actually a Bartonella species (such as B. henselae or B. quintana) or is "Bartonella-Like Organism" (BLO) that is yet to be fully identified. While BLO has features similar to organisms in the Bartonella family, it also has features slimiar to the Mycoplasma and the Francisella (causes tularemia) families.

As with other co-infections, there is a lot of overlap of symptoms between Lyme disease and Babesiosis. An accumulation of the following signs and symptoms probably warrant testing and/or treatment of Babesiosis:

  • Chills
  • Fatigue and often excessive sleepiness
  • High fever at onset of illness
  • Night sweats that are often drenching and profuse
  • Severe muscle pains, especially the large muscles of the legs (quads, buttocks, etc.)
  • Neurological symptoms often described as "dizzy, tipsy, and spaciness," similar to a sensation of "floating" or "walking off the top of a mountain onto a cloud"
  • Depression
  • Episodes of breathlessness, "air hunger", and/or cough
  • Decreased appetite and/or nausea
  • Spleen and/or liver enlargement
  • Abnormal labs (low white blood count, low platelet counts, mild elevation of liver enzymes, and elevated sed rate)
  • Headaches (migraine-like, persistent, and especially involving the back of the head and upper neck areas)
  • Joint pain (more common with Lyme and Bartonella)
  • anxiety/panic (more common with Bartonella)
  • Lymph gland swelling (more common with Bartonella and Lyme)

Take note that there is a continuing controversy regarding the diagnosis of Lyme disease. This debate has been fostered primarily by the insurance industry, which uses guidelines promulgated by the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA). IDSA relies on an internal panel’s review process, which has been the focus of legal action asserting bias and conflict of interest, and on the CDC’s Case Definition of Lyme disease. In fact, the CDC actually states that the purpose of its Lyme definition was surveillance, not diagnosis. The CDC has stated that its case definition of Lyme disease “was developed for national reporting of Lyme disease; it is not intended to be used in clinical diagnosis[bold type added for emphasis].”

OHP relies on the full analysis of each patient’s medical history, clinical presentation and available laboratory testing. We find laboratory testing essential, however, you should recognize that there are no reliable, specific test for Lyme disease pathogens.