In 1995, a young woman discovered a rash that looked strangely like a bull’s eye on her stomach but she ignored it. A few years later she began having pain in her knees, irregular heart beats, then neck pain. When her feet hurt, fatigue set in, and she experienced “brain fog,” she requested a Lyme disease test. The results were negative and no treatment was prescribed. A second test proved “suggestive” and she began a course of antibiotics. For a while she felt better, then much worse. Her doctor suggested she see a psychiatrist.
Her story is not atypical. “Chronic Lyme disease patients may face a long hard fight to wellness,” according to The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). “Without proper treatment, [these patients] have a poorer quality of life than patients with diabetes or a heart condition.”
Lyme disease, transmitted by the bite of a small tick, is caused by bacteria which can quickly infect multiple organs and produce a wide range of symptoms. It is known as the “great imitator” because it’s frequently attributed to other maladies so it often goes untreated. While early, adequate treatment with antibiotics can cure Lyme, it is complex to diagnose and reliable diagnostic tests remain unavailable. Two sequential blood tests, the ELISA and the Western Blot, are both inaccurate. Compounding the problem, many doctors don’t conduct the second, more accurate test if the first one is ‘negative.’ Vermont and Delaware have the highest rate of the disease in the country.
Professional and scientific agencies and organizations continue to advocate treating Lyme with antibiotics. But many researchers and clinicians are concerned that short-term antibiotic treatment is inadequate, especially for chronic Lyme disease. They advocate adjunct therapies including probiotics, physical therapy, massage and nutritional support to boost the immune system.
Colchester, Vt. family physician Carol Gardner is one of these doctors. She worries about resistance among physicians because adjunct modalities differ from the standard protocol advocating antibiotics. “The traditional thinking is that there’s not that big of a problem and it can be cleared up with a minimal amount of antibiotics,” she says. “But Lyme disease increased tenfold nationally by 2013 according to CDC statistics. That’s 1.5 times more than breast cancer and 6 times higher than HIV/AIDS!”