The topic of Lyme disease is a growing concern among health care practitioners. Prior to 1975, this disease was virtually unheard of. Within the past thirty years however, it has extended well beyond its (presumed) town of origin, Lyme, Connecticut, and it has reached epidemic proportions. Lyme disease is a global problem as well as a national problem and has now earned the dubious honor of becoming the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. Due to the insidious nature of its transmission and progression, there is a high probability that a significant number of cases go undetected or misdiagnosed. Despite all the interventions and approaches taken to treat Lyme disease, infection rates continue to rise. Lyme disease is so broad in scope that it is becoming a worldwide health threat. Most people are not aware that it is second only to AIDS in prevalence or that it is sexually transmitted. Lyme disease is passed on from mother to child via breast milk, to the unborn fetus through the placenta, and most likely through blood transfusions. One documented case involves a scientist who contracted Lyme disease through the urine of a lab animal. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have even discovered that an infected dairy cow’s milk can be a route of transmission. Entire families are suffering and being debilitated by Lyme disease. Many victims, despite extensive treatment, continue to suffer through excruciating pain, fatigue and disfigurement. The victim of Lyme disease suffers great losses. Many are no longer able to work, to care for their families, or to enjoy life in general. In essence, every organ and/or system in the body can be impacted by this dreadful disease. It is also noteworthy that many cases of Lyme disease are first diagnosed in the psychiatrist’s office. Friends and even family may turn their backs on Lyme disease victims and discredit them. Some victims found the only solution that made sense to them–suicide. Lang sums it succinctly: Talk to a thousand Lyme patients and you will get a thousand variations of the same story: people who are normally easygoing become moody and belligerent; those who are outgoing become lethargic; mood swings cause the break up of marriages and career relationships; the inability to concentrate results in job losses, plunging grades in school and accidents; short-term memory loss affects habits and speech; and everywhere there is depression, a loss of self-esteem, suicidal thoughts from people who have never had a history of such things. For all that has been learned and established about Lyme disease, much misinformation remains in circulation that is based on myths, contradictions and misconceptions. Even the origin of Lyme disease is open to debate. Most of the available literature supports the theory that Lyme disease originated in Lyme, Connecticut in the 1970s. However, Michael Christopher Carroll (2004) offers compelling evidence that Lyme disease actually originated decades earlier on Plum Island, 50 miles off the coast of Connecticut. It was on this island during the post-World War II period that an offshore germ warfare animal disease lab was built. Erich Traub, Hitler’s second-in-charge and the former employee of SS Heinrich Himler, headed this facility through the United States Department of Agriculture. Because a “suitable” American could not be found, Traub’s notorious past activities in WWII were overlooked. According Carroll, records have been found that document Nazi germ warfare scientists experimenting with poisoned ticks and dropping them from planes to spread disease. There is also evidence that the United States tested some of these poisonous ticks on the Plum Island artillery range. A top secret United States document confirms that “clandestine attacks on crops and animals” took place. Internal government documents reveal there were gaping holes in the lab roofs where air currents and insects freely came and went. Even more incriminating is the fact that deer frequently swam back and forth between the mainland and Plum Island, and that Plum Island was a stop for migratory birds before they moved on to Lyme, Connecticut. Doctor Jerry Callis, former Plum Island Director, openly admits to experimenting with tick colonies by feeding pathogens to them. In 1990, the largest number of cases of Lyme disease was circled on a map of the United States. That circle was tightened until a single point was reached. That point was Plum Island. Today, Lyme disease is found on every continent in the world and has been reported in all 50 states. The number of reported cases in the United States increased two hundred-fold between 1983 and 1991. Ninety-five per cent of these cases occur in the northeastern, upper Midwestern, and northwestern states. It is important to understand that Lyme disease reporting is based on surveillance data that lists the bullseye rash (erythema migrans) as one of the main diagnostic criteria. Unfortunately, this rash often does not appear and that is one reason it is thought Lyme disease is grossly underreported. Another reason is that this disease can manifest over 200 symptoms. Not only do these symptoms mimic those of over 350 other medical conditions, the Lyme spirochete itself is most closely related to the Treponema spirochete that causes syphilis, the original “great imposter. Given Lyme’s broad range of symptoms, it becomes apparent why Lyme disease is often referred to as “the new great imposter.” Because Lyme disease has no clear criteria and its symptoms often mimic those of other diseases, it is often misdiagnosed. The diseases most often attributed to Lyme symptoms are multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. To appreciate the nature of Lyme disease and its treatment and prevention, it is necessary to have an understanding of its carrier(s). The first misconception that must be cleared is that ticks exclusively transmit Lyme. It has been unequivocally established that Lyme is transmitted by any biting vector that has access to the host’s blood. This includes mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, fleas, biting flies and mites. It is also important to establish the fact that these vectors are not the actual agents of infection–they are merely the carriers. The actual microorganism that causes the illness of Lyme disease lies within the vector, the spirochete. In order for most antibiotics to kill bacteria, the cell wall must be destroyed. If there is no cell wall, few antibiotics are effective. A cell wall is requisite for the Borrelia burgdorferi (the predominant causative agent in Lyme disease) to keep its shape. As a survival mechanism, Borrelia burgdorferi “dodge” antibiotics by transforming into a “cell wall deficient” form, known as the L-Form (also known as “latent form” or “encysted form”). During this process, known as bacterial pleomorphism, the cell wall is replaced by a cell membrane. As long as it is in this form, few, if any, antibiotics have an effect on it. And, while in this form, the symptoms associated with Lyme Borrelia subside, as the host’s immune system does not recognize it as a foreign invader. The Bb bacteria are also a “master of collagen tissue.” They contract like a large muscle and spring forward rapidly. Because of this property, they are able to travel faster in tissue than in blood. They can go through blood vessel walls and connective tissue and can become embedded in heart, lung and brain tissue in less than a week from the time of transmission. The bacterium enters the human host cell of the immune system, dividing and breaking down the cell wall and secreting neurotoxins. This action causes the membrane to collapse around itself and the spirochete, “cloaking” it within the membrane. It is this action that is but another mechanism for the bacteria to camouflage itself, thus preventing the immune system from recognizing it as a foreign invader. This offers one of several explanations as to why a blood test for antibodies to Bb may be negative when the bacteria are present. It also explains why circulating antibiotics often do not kill the bacteria–the antibiotics cannot penetrate tissues and it is within the tissues that the spirochete often hides. When the timing is beneficial to the spirochete, it will emerge, gain access to the bloodstream and continue to infect its host. This is why symptoms tend to relapse and recur. Antibiotic therapy has also been disappointing because of the nature of the spirochete. To be effective, research has demonstrated that antibiotics must be “pulsed”. In other words, to destroy the spirochete when it comes out of hiding and returns to the bloodstream, each course of antibiotic should be repeated in a set pattern over a long period of time. However, despite this finding, the CDC website still warns against long-term treatment. And, as a result of complaints by insurance companies over rising costs, several physicians faced charges and serious discipline – one physician even had his license revoked. Most preventative measures to date have had a “mechanical” focus. For example, entire communities have gone out in force to reduce the deer population without realizing that ticks would promptly find another host. Some have taken the approach that if they destroy the tick’s habitat, they will eliminate the disease. On a smaller scale, there are a plethora of books, brochures and websites that describe in detail how to dress appropriately when out of doors, particularly in wooded and grassy areas. One novel approach to prevention that merits consideration is an examination of the role of a robust human immune system in Lyme disease prevention. The Borrelia burgdorferi itself could be an opportunistic infection stemming from a pre-existing weakened immune system or an immune system compromised by a primary chronic illness. As practitioners and researchers begin to consider the theory that a weak immune system may predispose a human to Lyme Borrelia, it, likewise, becomes easier to apply this concept to those on the other end of the spectrum. These are the hardier “vector victims” of Lyme Borrelia who never experience symptoms associated with the Bb spirochete. Indeed, health care practitioners are finding increasingly that Bb infected people can exist without any symptoms until they are faced with some traumatic or stressful event, i. e. pregnancy, physical trauma, or mental stress. Lyme disease lowers the white blood cell count. This decreased white blood cell count allows for a multitude of secondary bacterial, fungal, mycoplasmal, and viral infections. A necessary co-condition for the thriving of infectious organisms in the system is the presence of toxic metals and other environmental toxins. The severity of the symptoms directly corresponds with the overall body burden from co existing conditions and with the ability of the body to excrete neurotoxins. Yet, in spite of these acknowledgements, we must ask, “Is Bb infection causing the illnesses (MS, ALS, Parkinsons, autism, arthritis, chronic fatigue, sarcoidosis, cancer) or is Bb an opportunistic infection which occurs when the immune system is compromised by these other illnesses?” Perhaps Lyme disease serves both roles. Perhaps it weakens the body sufficiently to allow for co-infections. Perhaps Lyme is an opportunistic co-infection. It then becomes a moot point regarding which disease manifested first. What’s more, in spite of flawed surveillance/reporting criteria, there is a definite correlation between higher rates of infection among the very young, the elderly and the frail. These groups share a common feature–all have compromised immune system function. Disease can progress only under optimal conditions, conditions that are not optimal for the host, but optimal for the vector. No bacteria or virus can replicate at will in a healthy body. Antibiotics may arrest the progression but only if initiated as an early intervention. Unfortunately, as described earlier, due to the evasive and nebulous nature of the Bb spirochete, antibiotics are not typically started until late dissemination, which proffers no lasting effects in terms of disease eradication. In the years ahead, it is anticipated that there will be renewed emphasis placed on Lyme disease prevention through immune system enhancement. It is also anticipated that this connection will be applied to other disease processes, particularly the autoimmune diseases.
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