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Is the Medical Community Behind the Times When It Comes to Treating Lyme?

MAY 24, 2017 | PAT SMITH
Additionally, there is no test for active Lyme disease infection, and test interpretation, especially the use of specific bands in the WB (IgM 2/3; IgG 5/10), developed at the 1994 CDC/Association of State and Territorial Public Health Laboratory Directors Dearborn meeting,6 is problematic. Some doctors and researchers believe those bands were selected only to protect the then-in-development Lyme disease vaccine (subsequently licensed and withdrawn over 4 years). Furthermore, the Lyme ELISA used for screening may not react with serum antibodies if at least a month has not elapsed between the tick bite and the test. If antibodies do develop, research in the Journal of the American Medical Association7 has shown that the antigen and the antibody produced by the patient can form a complex. Current commercial tests can only test for a free antibody, not an antibody in a complex, so patients can remain undiagnosed despite having produced antibodies.
Perhaps most noteworthy is that FDA-cleared commercial serological tests are based on one strain of Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in contrast, for example, to a 2-strain Lyme test developed by one independent Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-approved lab.  The recent discovery by Mayo Clinic/CDC of the Borrelia mayonii species in the Midwest, which can also cause Lyme, and the acknowledgement that Borrelia miyamotoi, a spirochete closely related to the relapsing fever bacteria and more distantly related to the Lyme bacteria, causes a Lyme-like disease in the United States, means Ixodes scapularis ticks transmit all three of those bacteria, further clouding the diagnostic picture.
There has been considerable research over the past several years supporting the existence of chronic Lyme, including the discovery at Northeastern University that persister cells are formed by B. burgdorferi.8 These cells go dormant when treated with antibiotics, but can grow again after treatment stops. Persisters are found in other diseases as well. Work at Johns Hopkins has also been done on persisters: research in Emerging Microbes & Infections,9 “…identified 165 agents approved for use in other disease conditions that had more activity than doxycycline and amoxicillin against B. burgdorferi persisters. The top 27 drug candidates from the 165 hits were confirmed to have higher persister activity than the current frontline antibiotics.” Additionally, work on biofilms in Lyme, by researchers from the University of New Haven, and published in European Journal of Microbiology & Immunology,10 demonstrated for the first time “…the presence of Borrelia biofilm in human infected skin tissue.”
The results of several animal studies have shown that the Lyme spirochete survives antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, including a University of California mouse study,11 a Tulane monkey study,12 a Cornell dog study,13 and a National Institutes of Health human xenodiagnosis study.14
As new research continues to unlock persistence mechanisms used by B. burgdorferi, the medical community needs to avail itself of those scientific findings by attending continuing medical education conferences and grand rounds and partaking in preceptorships that foster divergent views. The medical community needs to support further research on why some individuals remain sick. It is imperative that healthcare professionals learn how to change that outcome rather than relying on outdated methodologies that have not benefited patient health.
Patricia Smith (Pat), President of the Lyme Disease Association, Inc., graduated from Monmouth University. She has been involved with Lyme disease issues for 33 years and is a Member of the Columbia Lyme & Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center Advisory Committee, the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programmatic Panel on Tick-Borne Diseases, and the Environmental Protection Agency Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program. She has twice testified before US House Subcommittees on Lyme and is former Chair of the NJ Governor’s Lyme Disease Advisory Council. She has published on and been interviewed for broadcast, electronic, and print media on Lyme and tick-borne diseases. 
  1. Eisen RJ, Eisen L, Beard, CB. County-scale distribution of Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) in the continental United States. J Med Entomol. 2016;53(2):349-386. 
  2. Adrion ER, Aucott J, Lemke KW, Weiner JP. Health care costs, utilization and patterns of care following Lyme disease. PLOS ONE. 2015;10(2):e0116767. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116767. 
  3. Cameron DJ, Johnson LB, Maloney EL. Evidence assessments and guideline recommendations in Lyme disease: the clinical management of known tick bites, erythema migrans rashes and persistent disease. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2014;12(9):1103-1135. 
  4. FDA moves to regulate all Lyme tests. Lyme Disease Association website. Published Jan 12, 2015. Accessed May 2017. 
  5. Stricker RB, Johnson L. Lyme wars: let’s tackle the testing. BMJ. 2007;335(7628):1008. 
  6. Lyme Disease Association. Conflicts of interest in Lyme disease: laboratory testing, vaccination, and treatment guidelines. LDA website. Published 2001. Accessed May 2017. 
  7. Schutzer SE, Coyle PK, Reid P, Holland B. Borrelia burgdorferi–specific immune complexes in acute Lyme disease. JAMA. 1999;282(20):1942-1946. 
  8. Sharma B, Brown AV, Matluck NE, Hu LT, Lewis K. Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, forms drug-tolerant persister cells. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2015;59(8):4616-4624. 
  9. Feng J,Wang T, Shi, W, et al. Identification of novel activity against Borrelia burgdorferi persisters using an FDA approved drug library. Emerg Microbes Infect. 2014;3(7):e49. 
  10. Sapi E, Balasubramanian K, Poruri A, Maghsoudlou JS, et al. Evidence of in vivo existence of Borrelia biofilm in Borrelial lymphocytomas. Eur J Microbiol Immunol (Bp). 2016;6(1) 9-24. 
  11. Hodzic E, Feng S, Holden K, Freet KJ, Barthold SW. Persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi following antibiotic treatment in mice. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2008;52(5):1728-1736. 
  12. Embers ME, Barthold SW, Borda JT, et al. Correction: persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi in rhesus macaques following antibiotic treatment of disseminated infection. PLOS One. 2013;8(9). 
  13. Straubinger RK, Straubinger AF, Summers BA, Jacobson RH. Status of Borrelia burgdorferi infection after antibiotic treatment and the effects of corticosteroids: an experimental study. J Infect Dis. 2000;181(3):1069-1081. 
  14. Marques A, Telford SR 3rd, Turk SP, et al. Xenodiagnosis to detect Borrelia burgdorferi infection: a first-in-human study. Clin Infect Dis. 2014;58(7):937-945.
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