It's now well-recognized that chronic infection is an underlying factor in many if not most chronic illnesses. Diseases such as Parkinson, multiple sclerosis, cardiomyopathy, gastritis and chronic fatigue are all turning out to be expressions of chronic infections, and Lyme disease appears to be a major, yet oftentimes hidden, player.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics released in 2013,1,2 an estimated 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. That's about 10 times higher than the officially reported number of cases, and is indicative of severe underreporting.
Lyme Disease Now Found in All 50 States
Lyme disease used to be confined to the area of New England. The disease is actually named after the East Coast town of Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease was first identified in1975.3
Now, a Quest Diagnostics health trend report4 warns the tick-borne disease has spread and is being diagnosed in every state in the U.S.5,6 Last year, 10,001 cases of Lyme were diagnosed through Quest Diagnostics' testing in Pennsylvania alone, the state with the highest prevalence.
New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) accounted for the vast majority — 60 percent — of the cases diagnosed through Quest, numbering 11,549 in total. Between 2016 and 2017, prevalence rose by 50 percent in New England and 78 percent in Pennsylvania.
However, positive tests also rose in areas where Lyme has previously been absent, including Florida and California. Overall, over the past seven years the greatest uptick in positive tests occurred between 2016 and 2017. According to Harvey W. Kaufman, senior medical director for Quest Diagnostics:7
"Lyme disease is a bigger risk to more people in the United States than ever before. We hypothesize that these significant rates of increase may reinforce other research suggesting changing climate conditions that allow ticks to live longer and in more regions may factor into disease risk."
Lyme Disease 101
Lyme disease refers to illnesses transferred by insects. Although some still attribute transmission exclusively to ticks, the bacteria can also be spread by other insects, including mosquitoes, spiders, fleas and mites. Ticks are blood suckers, and prefer dark crevices such as your armpit, behind your ear or on your scalp.
Once it attaches itself and starts feeding on your blood, it will at some point "spit" its bacterial load into your blood stream. If it carries an infectious organism, the infection spreads to you via this salivary emission. The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis, also known as the deer tick) was linked to transmission of the disease in 1977.
In 1982, Willy Burgdorfer, Ph.D., identified the bacterium responsible for the infection: Borrelia burgdorferi8 — a cousin to the spirochete bacterium that causes syphilis. Since then, five subspecies and 300 strains of B. burgdorferi have been identified, many of which have developed resistance to our various antibiotics.
B. burgdorferi is capable of taking different forms in your body (cystic, granular and cell wall deficient forms) depending on the conditions it's trying to survive in. This clever maneuvering helps it hide and survive. Its corkscrew-shaped form also allows it to burrow into and hide in a variety of your body's tissues, which is why it causes such wide-ranging multisystem involvement.
The organisms may also live in biofilm communities — basically a colony of germs surrounded by a slimy glue-like substance that is hard to unravel. All of these different morphologies explain why treatment is so difficult, and why recurrence of symptoms occurs after standard antibiotic protocols.
Ticks can also simultaneously infect you with other disease-causing organisms, such as Bartonella, Rickettsia, Ehrlichia and Babesia. Any or all of these organisms can travel with B. burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme) and add their own set of symptoms. Many Lyme patients have one or more of these coinfections, which may or may not respond to any given treatment.