Introduction To Lyme

If you got bitten by a tick and developed a bulls-eye rash you may have gone to your G.P. and then done a test for Lyme disease. You may have also started to get some symptoms but then the test comes back negative. Here are some useful things to know about testing in the U.K. and why, if you still have symptoms, you should speak to your doctor about treatment based on a clinical diagnosis.

In the U.K. the NHS test for one tick borne bacteria called Borrelia burgdoferi – commonly known as Lyme disease. This is called an ELISA test and is not 100% accurate so it can give false negatives. Unfortunately, this is not the only tick-borne bacteria found in the U.K. and Ireland.There is also Borrelia burgdoferi, Borrelia valaisiana, Borrelia garenii and Borrelia afzelli. More accurate tests done in other countries are EliSpot and PCR testing. Another type called the SeraSpot and Tickplex Plus will also show antibodies that your body may develop over time.

There are also other infections that can be passed by ticks which produce similar symptoms; such as Bartonella henslae and Babesia microti, to name a few. There are a few labs in Germany and the USA which do much broader testing. The Finnish TickPlex Plus tests for several species at the same time. So you can see that a clinical diagnosis is really important and a blood test is an aid not a conclusion.

Unfortunately the classic bullseye rash is still sometimes confused with ringworm by doctors who haven’t yet had much experience with Lyme. Also not everybody gets a rash, and without a rash it can take a long time to get diagnosed especially as many of the symptoms mimic other diseases and conditions. Doctors’ appointments are very short–and not always with the same doctor – so patients often tend to just tell them about one symptom at a time,and these are often investigated or treated in isolation. Without time to look at the big picture and understand how many seemingly disparate symptoms link up as the infection travels around the body, the correct diagnosis is often missed.

In the first instance, three weeks of doxycycline at 200mg per day is recommended by NICE and the Royal College of Practitioners Lyme Toolkitfor GPs. For around 80% of people this is enough to prevent further problems but NICE advises GPs to provide a follow-up course of amoxycillin at 1g 3 times a day for a further 21 days if there are continuing symptoms.

There are herbs, such as Chinese Baikal scullcap and even the common bilberry, that potentiate the action of doxycycline but the important thing is to keep your immune system strong.So taking Astragalus or Echinacea just after a bite can help.You should also take probiotics to help your gut microbiota recover post-antibiotics.

Sadly many people are picked up too late for oral antibiotics. Some may progress to need intravenous ceftriaxone recommended by NICE for Lyme arthritis, or they go privately and are given several antibiotics together.

Patients can take many drugs and herbs together safely although this is best done under the guidance of a Lyme-literate physician and a herbalist. Certainly many people find that herbal supplements offer a lot of symptom relief. Many Lyme sufferers will have come across the books on Lyme and the herbal protocols by Stephen Harrod Buhner and will seek out herbalists to help them manage their condition. Self-treating can become very confusing as a herbal dispensary can include hundreds of different herbs, but herbalists can help patients develop the right protocol for their illness progression.

There is published clinical evidence that some herbs, essential oils and even seaweed are as effective at tackling Borrelia in vitro as some of the antibiotics. More and more herbs are being tested including some native to the U.K. and, ironically, the invasive weed Japanese knotweed turns out to be high in resveratrol that helps affected joints and the root is also a Borrelia ‘herbal antibiotic’ active against the bacteria in vitro.

The best course of action is to be vigilant. Always check for ticks after every walk and remove them with a special tick remover. Then keep an eye out for symptoms. Not just the rash, but any signs of inflammation, pain, headaches or fever. Luckily only around 5% of ticks carry these bacteria but if you are informed and alert, then you can get treated early on if you have been infected. Sadly, we sometimes speak to people attending the Lyme Clinic who have suffered for 10, 20 years or more before recovering with the right treatment, because they were told it was stress-related, chronic fatigue or an autoimmune condition. So if in doubt, please speak out!