What is LYME DISEASE
Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria called Borellia that is transmitted to humans by tick bites. It is a common illness in Europe and the United States.
It is named after the town of Lyme, in Connecticut, USA, where the illness was first recognised.
It has now been shown conclusively that it is possible to pick up Lyme disease in Australia.
It is very much under diagnosed in Australia. There are possibly many thousands of people in Australia suffering from this disease, but who have not had the diagnosis made and who have not been offered treatment.
Not many Australian doctors are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease.
Lyme disease can cause a very wide range of symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. Not everyone with Lyme can remember being bitten by a tick.
The early symptoms of disease, occurring in the first two or three weeks after the tick bite, can include a skin rash (called a “bull’s- eye” rash), flu-like symptoms, joint pains, swollen lymph nodes, fever and headache.
If left untreated it can develop into a chronic infection with a wide variety of symptoms, affecting many organ systems, including the heart and brain. Chronic Lyme disease can mimic the symptoms of many other illnesses.
Symptoms of chronic Lyme can include headaches, joint pains, neck stiffness, photophobia (sensitivity to light), stomach problems, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), visual disturbances, palpitations, dizziness, impaired memory and concentration, seizures, severe fatigue, mood disturbances, and pins and needles in the hands and feet.
It can cause meningitis and encephalitis, and severe longstanding cases can have symptoms similar to neurological illnesses such a multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease.
Lyme can be difficult to diagnose. The diagnosis is made primarily on the basis of the patient’s clinical history and symptoms, and physical examination. Laboratory tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis, but Lyme does not always show up on routine laboratory tests.
The main treatment for Lyme is antibiotics. These are usually given orally, but sometimes intravenous antibiotics are used.
The duration of antibiotic of treatment varies according to the individual case. Someone with recent onset of Lyme disease, within a few weeks of the tick bite, will probably need antibiotics for 6-8 weeks. On the other hand, a patient who has been suffering from this disease for 10 or 20 years, and has had no prior treatment, may require antibiotics for 2 or 3 years.
Herbal medicines can also play a useful role in the treatment of Lyme, and can enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics.
Most Lyme experts consider however that it cannot be cured by herbal medicines alone, and that antibiotic must always be used.
A variety of nutritional supplements are also routinely recommended for patients.
There is strong evidence that Lyme can be passed on from mother to child in utero, and also by sexual contact.
Many patients with this disease also have what is commonly known as “co-infections”. These are other infections such as which can be transmitted by the tick bite, such as Babesia, Bartonella, Ricksettia and Ehrlichia, and which also require antibiotic treatment.