Lyme Disease Awareness: Lyme Disease Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month––appropriately, since we are heading into the peak season here in the United States for ticks, mosquitos, and other critters that carry Lyme. There is still a lot of information that is not well understood around this debilitating illness, even as more and more people are being affected by it. So today we’re going to let you know about some of the causes, symptoms, and ways you can prevent Lyme disease. 

Table of Contents: 

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness, a bacterial infection that manifests whole-body symptoms.

People with Lyme disease may develop a rash and acute flu-like symptoms after initial infection. People usually describe feeling really terrible for a short period of time and then making an initial recovery. At this point, many people dismiss the symptoms as a short-lived virus or bug, unfortunately missing the real danger present. 

From there, many people develop chronic symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, memory difficulty, joint pain, and even more serious neurological issues. Lyme is known as “the great imitator” since its symptoms can be labelled as many different illnesses: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other neurological and multi-system diseases. There is no one-size fits all treatment, and Lyme patients often end up trying a number of different therapies before finding a combination that relieves their symptoms. [1]

What causes Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is traditionally caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted via tick bite, specifically the blacklegged tick (Ixodes). However, we now know that other vectors such as mosquitoes, louse, and even possibly horse flies or other insects carry the Lyme bacteria.

There are also multiple strains of the Borrelia bacteria, but B. burgdorferi seems to be the most prevalent in the United States. In Europe, other strains such as B. garinii and B. afzelii cause more cases of Lyme disease. Borrelia is usually accompanied by one or more co-infections, commonly Babesia, Bartonella, and Ehrlichia. It’s actually far more rare to see a standalone case of Lyme without these co-infections. 

Many physicians that specialize and treat Lyme have also noted that people with preexisting conditions or exposure to environmental toxins or pollutants are more susceptible to the Lyme pathogen as well as more difficult to treat. 

As for how widespread Lyme is in the United States, the numbers are constantly changing. What we do know is that cases of Lyme are rising, and the illness has been identified in people from all 50 states. The bacteria is travelling not only through the critters we mentioned above, but also via birds and even pets who become infected by ticks or mosquitos and then travel with the disease over longer distances. There are Lyme “hotspots” in the upper midwest and the northeast. 

number of Lyme disease cases by state

Data compiled from CDC published data (MMWR - Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report; DVBD - Division of Vector-Borne Diseases). https://lymediseaseassociation.org/LDA_Apps/content/Maps/index.html 

Is Lyme disease contagious?

Lyme disease is not contagious in the same way that a cold is contagious, but unfortunately, pregnant mothers can pass the Lyme bacteria to their children. There is some argument about whether it can be sexually transmitted, but so far no conclusive evidence. 

Chronic Lyme disease

Chronic lyme disease manifests when Borrelia (and its co-infections) is left untreated in the system. Once inside, it can spread just about anywhere, the muscles, joints, organs, you name it. It is very hard to kill, and most Lyme practitioners say that the end goal isn’t to get rid of it completely, but to reduce it to the point where symptoms are no longer present. 

People can go years and even decades without a diagnosis and proper treatment, during which time the bugs can wreak havoc on the body. However, there is definitely hope for people with Lyme disease! There are many avenues of treatment to take, and recovery is totally possible. 

Lyme diseases stages and symptoms

The acute stage of Lyme presents in different ways. Some people have intense flu-like symptoms that may last a number of days. Sometimes there may be a rash present if a person has been bitten by a tick, but not necessarily. Most people will not realize they have contracted Lyme and delay critical antibiotic treatment, potentially making it much harder to treat later on. 

Once this first stage passes, the person may think they are in the clear, but then long-term symptoms may begin to set in. At this point, more debilitating symptoms start to become more common, such as: 

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Memory impairment
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Multiple skin rashes
  • Joint swelling/pain
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, bloating, gas, etc.
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings.

If a person continues to go untreated, symptoms may worsen and compound, leading to other systemic issues like hormone dysregulation, muscle loss due to fatigue, microbiome disruption, and so on. [2]

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

Unfortunately, Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. There can be many false positives and negatives over a variety of different tests. [3]

The most important thing is to find a “Lyme literate” functional medicine physician that can help guide you through clinical diagnosis and then appropriate treatment. A well-trained, well-versed Lyme literate doctor will be able to diagnose based on symptoms, patient history, and potentially a physical exam. Look for a practitioner that has a history of treating Lyme patients and if possible, one that uses multiple treatment options, from antibiotics and supplements to heat therapy to nervous system regulation techniques. 

Lyme disease tests

There are many tests providers may use to help get a better picture of Lyme and its co-infections. Some of these tests include: 

  • ELISA test: This is an initial test that looks for antibodies to the Lyme bacteria. If this test is positive or borderline, a Western blot test is ordered. Due to poor sensitivity, Lyme literate physicians consider this test to be an unreliable indicator of the presence of Lyme and its co-infections. 
  • Western blot: This test is usually ordered after an ELISA test, and it often looks for a specific strain of Borrelia. Since there are multiple strains of Borrelia, not to mention co-infections, this test can also indicate a false negative. [4
  • IGeneX ImmunoBlot test: This test is a more comprehensive evaluation of Borrelia species present and, without going into too many complicated details, uses more accurate testing methods. [5]

Lyme disease treatment

Lyme disease treatment is multisided and complex. But no matter what, it’s not something you can do on your own. The first step is finding a qualified practitioner to help you with a treatment plan. 

Finding a practitioner for suspected chronic Lyme disease

You can look for a Lyme literate practitioner online on the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society website.  

You could also try Googling “Lyme literate doctors + [your location].” If you are in a rural area, you may want to search using the city closest to you. Luckily, these days more and more practitioners are doing virtual visits, so if you are not able to leave your home you may still be able to see a qualified practitioner and get on the path to wellness. 

Supplementation

Every Lyme patient responds differently to medication and supplementation, whether that’s antibiotics or vitamins. Lyme patients also tend to be highly sensitive to different products, especially those that are used to attack the bacteria. However, there are some universally supportive supplements that patients may benefit from, such as BodyBio PC

PC supports healthy cell membranes, digestive health, brain health, and more, many areas that people suffering with Lyme need support in.* PC can also support detoxification and gallbladder health, which is critical when undergoing a microbial treatment protocol for Lyme or any other pathogen.*

We have heard from many of the trusted practitioners that use our products that BodyBio PC has been a gamechanger for the health of their patients. You can read more about PC here

The Borrelia of Lyme’s thrive on very-long-chain fatty acids (VLCFA’s), so foods that contain them need to be eliminated: peanuts and their products, spinach, and canola, corn, cottonseed, oxidized safflower & sunflower oils. To disrupt bacterial feeding, sodium butyrate breaks down the VLCFA’s, to be removed by organelle activity.

Lyme disease prevention

Prevention is the best treatment, especially for Lyme. You want to be especially careful when you are out in wooded areas in the spring and summer, perhaps hiking or camping. You can still enjoy these fun outdoor activities, and certainly the benefits of being out in nature balance out the risks. Still, there are some precautions you can take to protect yourself from potential Lyme infection. 

Use insect repellants

Many people, when they are out in the woods or just outside in the summer, immediately reach for a can of bug repellant filled with the toxic chemical deet, which can stress the nervous system. But you can also use more natural bug repellants that work just as well and carry less risks of toxicity. Some of these include: 

  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Permethrin
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Oil of Citronella. [6]

Take precautions with clothing

Besides repellant sprays, you can also use clothing to your advantage to keep off ticks and mosquitos. Whether you’re out for a casual hike or camping deep in the woods, choose protection and coverage over fashion. 

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when out hiking or camping.
  • Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks/shoes to create less openings for critters to find. 
  • Protect your scalp with a hat or other covering. 

Check for ticks as soon as you’re home

You want to do a thorough inspection for ticks immediately after returning home. First, when you return home, take off the clothes you were wearing and put them straight in the dryer on high heat before washing to kill any bugs that may be attached to your clothing. 

Second, check your whole body for ticks, including the scalp. If you do find a tick, don’t panic! You can use a sharp tweezers to remove it, applying steady pressure and pulling straight out. It might take some time, but you want to try to remove the whole thing without separating the mouth from the body. Once you remove it, you can flush it down the toilet or seal it in a plastic bag with tape for testing. DO NOT crush the tick with your hands since its potentially infected blood could still come into contact with your skin. [7]

There are also tick removal devices that make it much easier to remove, especially on pets. You can find these at many outdoor equipment stores and pet stores. 

Remembering Lyme Disease Awareness Month with BodyBio

Lyme disease and its related co-infections are becoming more and more common in the U.S., Europe, and beyond. Where not so long ago most cases were confined to certain areas like the upper midwest and the northeast, now cases are present in every single state, and we know the bacteria is being transmitted over longer distances by birds and other wildlife. 

So, to protect yourself and your family, you have to be mindful and vigilant when spending time outdoors, no matter what part of the country you live in. Take precautions like using a safe insect repellant and wearing appropriate clothing. And if you suspect you have chronic Lyme, find a Lyme literate practitioner today and get started with treatment. Although you are embarking on a winding journey to health, you can absolutely recover and live a full life free from Lyme disease. 

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