Time and time again, I hear people asking the question, "I've been treating my Lyme disease for years and I feel worse now than the day I started. Why?" Well, the answer might just be that treatment has been too focused on eradication of Borrelia, the causative agent of Lyme disease, and not focused enough on the numerous co-infections and other factors that are almost universally present.
I often ask myself why people overlook the obvious when it comes to Lyme disease. The obvious for me is Lyme disease is more than just an infection with Borrelia. It is co-infections, parasites, heavy metals, poor detoxification abilities, hypercoagulated blood, dental infections, and many other contributing factors. Many of these factors have been adding to one's total body burden for years or decades before actually becoming infected by a tick bite or other mode of transmission. It takes many things gone wrong to become chronically ill, and it is only through the reversal of those many things that one can hope to attain recovered health and wellness.
It is my strong opinion that antibiotics, though a part of the solution for many including myself, are not in and of themselves the answer. We may believe that we want to be well, and yet we sabotage our own healing as a result of not opening our mind to the possibility that Lyme is a complex illness that requires many different interventions. Lyme disease should be viewed much more as a multi-factorial illness and not as an infection caused solely by a spirochete.
Studies show that ticks may carry half a dozen or more of these infectious agents which may be the missing link in the treatment of those that are not improving with Lyme treatment alone. "Many people with lingering symptoms of Lyme disease may actually be infected with one or more previously unrecognized bacteria, viruses, parasites, and protozoa", said Eva Sapi, assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of New Haven.
It is critical to recognize and understand that the more co-infections a person is carrying, the more complex their symptom picture may be and the more difficult their recovery may be as well. A significant reason for this is that the co-infections may be overlooked and thus are often not treated. Each of the co-infections may require entirely different treatment approaches, especially if using more conventional interventions.One should not assume that the treatment used for Borrelia will also eradicate all of the co-infections. It may not. The primary tick-borne co-infections that are often present to some degree in someone with Lyme disease are noted below.
Babesia - There are at least 17 subtypes of Babesia now widely known. Babesia is an intracellular parasite that lives in the red blood cells. It is an organism much like malaria and in fact, many of the treatment options used are anti-malarial preparations. Symptoms of Babesia may include: weakness, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chills, gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, myalgia, weight loss, arthralgia, and respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath (air hunger). Eye, brain, and dental symptoms are also often the direct result of infection with Babesia. It is my opinion that Babesia is probably the one co-infection with the most severe consequences in terms of holding one back from progressing in their recovery.
Ehrlichia - A bacterium that invades white blood cells. It works with Borrelia to make the symptom presentation much more severe. Symptoms may include: high fever, muscle aches and pains, headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms, low white blood cell count, mental confusion, skin rashes, and elevated liver enzymes. Anaplasma (previously known as Human Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis) is a related organism that brings with it many of the same symptoms.
Bartonella - Also known as Cat-Scratch Fever. Symptoms may include: non-healing infections of the jaw and devitalized teeth, swollen glands, fatigue, pain in the soles of the feet, flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint pain, cardiac symptoms, vomiting, nausea, and chills. There may also be a characteristic Bartonella rash which presents as stretch marks. Bartonella may be another factor in the eye-related symptoms in those with Lyme disease.
Mycoplasma - Though not often thought of as a Lyme co-infection, mycoplasma is quite common in those infected with Lyme disease. Symptoms may include: disabling fatigue, fevers, night sweats, muscle aches and pains, short-term memory loss, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, light sensitivity, damage to the immune system, confusion, and many other signs and symptoms that defy other explanation. They are among the smallest and simplest organisms known. Mycoplasma is also implicated as a causative agent in Gulf War Syndrome.
Estimates on the prevalence of infectious agents found in ticks are presented below and come from data provided by Dr. Garth Nicolson. The results show how rampant these infections may truly be. Add up the numbers and one will quickly recognize that the odds are not in our favor.
Some Lyme doctors have estimated that the presence of Babesia infection may actually be 70% or higher based on their clinical experience. When reviewing the symptoms caused by the various co-infections, it becomes clear that there is significant overlap between the symptoms which result from co-infections and those that are caused by Borrelia itself.
Though Borrelia may be the ringleader, it is critical that one not overlook the very real and almost certain reality that co-infections may be a significant part of one's current condition.
In summary • Co-infections are the rule, not an exception. • The average child with Lyme disease has 2-5 co-infections with an average of 3. • Treatment of co-infections is required and often, they must be treated before or concurrent with the Borrelia treatment itself. • If you don't test for and treat co-infections, you are not putting yourself in a good position for healing. • Most people with chronic Lyme have 1 or more co-infections. • Co-infections require different treatments in many cases. Do not assume that you are covering them with only the Lyme treatment. • Co-infection testing is often unreliable as well and you need to repeat them over time.
It took 4 months for my Bartonella to appear and almost 8 months for Babesia to finally appear, but they were there. If you think you only have Borrelia, odds are you have not looked closely enough. If you think that you are unique and that co-infections are not present, think again. It might just be that this change in thinking leads to a significant step forward in your healing journey. If just one person reads this article and gets tested for co-infections, my purpose will have been served.
If after all of this, you still don't think that co-infections are a part of your chronic ill-health, please go to the nearest corner store and purchase a lottery ticket. Your odds of winning the lottery are probably better than the odds of not having a co-infection.
Disclaimer: The information shared here is based on Scott's personal experience as a patient with Lyme disease and as someone infected with many of the co-infections discussed in this article. This information is not intended to be a replacement for sound medical advice from a licensed medical professional.
About the author
Scott Forsgren (Author) is a health writer, advocate, and coach. He is the editor and founder of BetterHealthGuy.com where he shares his now 17 year journey through the world of Lyme disease and the myriad of factors that it often entails. He has been fortunate to have written for publications such as the Public Health Alert, Explore!, Bolen Report, and Townsend Letter. More information on his work is available at http://www.BetterHealthGuy.com.