First recognized in the United States in 1975 after a puzzling and unexplainable outbreak of debilitating health issues near Lyme, Connecticut, it was not until 1982 that doctors identified the correlation between deer ticks and Lyme disease. The disease is caused by several strains of the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick. Once a tick emerges from an egg, it frequently becomes infected during its larval or nymph stage, as it feeds off small animals like squirrels, mice, or birds that carry the Lyme-causing bacteria. During the tick’s subsequent feeding cycle, it passes the bacteria to a human, or another animal.
Early symptoms of the disease often manifest as a flu-like illness, with accompanying fever, chills, muscle aches, and joint pain. While the characteristic ‘bulls-eye’ rash called erythema migrans is often present, many people develop a different type of rash, or none at all. Moreover, a host of Lyme symptoms occur in other diseases, and as a result, many patients suffering from Lyme disease are misdiagnosed with conditions like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and other psychiatric illnesses, before being correctly treated.
If Lyme is not diagnosed or treated in its early stages, it transitions to a chronic, highly problematic late-stage disease, and symptoms increase in their severity. Untreated Lyme disease will eventually infect joints, the heart, and the nervous system—causing nerve paralysis and meningitis, and difficulty with memory and concentration.
There are approximately 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, and the number of those infected is expected to increase. According to Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the illness is on track to produce its worst numbers in 2017. Moreover, many experts believe the true number of Lyme cases is higher than reported, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require ‘objective measures’ like positive blood tests or rashes; therefore, estimates indicate that CDC surveillance only captures approximately 10% of reportable Lyme cases. There is currently no vaccine for Lyme disease, and most researchers note that the FDA-approved blood tests are often inaccurate.
Because of the multi-faceted and complex nature of Lyme, neither standard nor functional medical treatments work very well in this patient population, nor is it enough only to treat the infection in many patients. Andrew Heyman, MD, MHSA, a renowned expert in chronic infections and Lyme disease, states: “Common complaints such as fatigue and weight gain can be wrapped in a much deeper problem such as Lyme that may be underlying the clinical presentation. To successfully treat Lyme patients, one must eradicate the infection, resolve the chronic inflammatory response and repair the injury to the brain – all of which is possible with targeted therapies to restore patients back to health.” A true specialist in this field, therefore, must have an extraordinary ability and capacity to treat the patient as a whole, with experience and skill in not only hormonal balance, stress management, microbiome health, and detoxification, but also genomics, brain trauma and injury, chronic infections, and mold exposure—along with managing other complicated factors associated with Lyme disease.