Lyme disease was first discovered in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975, after a large number of the residents there complained of a mysterious debilitating illness. The bizarre set of symptoms, which couldn’t be pinned down to any existing condition, included skin rashes, fever, joint swelling and pain, elements of paralysis and chronic fatigue. The curious disorder plagued the town and surrounding areas for much of the 1960s and early 70s. After relentless patient advocacy, doctors finally sat up and took notice in 1975, grouping the symptoms together under one disorder and naming it Lyme disease, after the town. In the 43 years that have passed since, much progress has been made on the Lyme front – but unfortunately, many things have also stayed the same.
The decision to name the disease after the locale in which it was discovered serves as a microcosm for many of the issues still facing Lyme disease sufferers and advocates today. By tying the disease to a specific area, the doctors inadvertently made the mistake of assuming that Lyme contraction was related to geography. They’re not to be blamed, though; when the disease was christened in 1975, the method of transmission was still unknown. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the disorder was linked to ticks, specifically deer ticks, after a scientist studying Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever also took an interest in Lyme. In a way, the disease is linked to the geography; rural populated areas proved to be a perfect feeding ground for ticks. However, Lyme is much more moveable than the doctors who discovered it could know at the time.
The damage had already been done, however. Though most people know that you contract the disease from ticks, most people also think you can also only contract it in the north-eastern United States. Even people who live in America believe this to this day. Further out, the problem compounds; people in Europe often disregard Lyme as an ‘American’ disease. Reversing this misconception is a large part of the work that advocates have been engaging in, particularly over the last couple of decades. Lyme disease is a problem all over the world, and the sooner the medical community and the general public at large realise this, the better.
Ticks and Lyme have actually been around for many thousands of years. In fact, recent research turned up the borrelia bacteria (Lyme’s causative agent) in a 5,000-year-old mummy. Lyme has been recorded on every continent bar Antarctica, and in every state on mainland U.S.A., and the problem is only increasing with the advent of global warming. Ticks are able to move farther and live longer, plus the warmer weather is keeping people outdoors for longer in the year. The visibility and common knowledge surrounding Lyme disease is increasing, however, and in 2018, the condition is much better understood at a base public level than it used to be.
It is better understood from a medical perspective as well, although the prevalence of chronic Lyme remains a hotly debated topic among medical professionals. While the symptoms of acute Lyme resemble a flu, and are often accompanied by a distinctive bullseye-shaped rash, the symptoms of chronic Lyme have more to do with the body’s response to the infection than to the infection itself. Inflammation is the main component of the symptoms, which include constant fatigue, joint pains, aches and stiffness. The infection has become so entrenched within the body, that the immune system kicks into overdrive unaware that it’s causing more harm than good. This distinction is critical, and informs the entire treatment plan for Lyme sufferers. So far, it’s only experts in the field of chronic diseases, such as BCA-clinic, that have really pioneered this approach, although it’s slowly being accepted by the wider medical community.
Another important element of Lyme that we’ve come to understand better in recent years is its co-infections. When the disorder was christened in 1975, it was thought of as one standalone illness. However, two times out of three, this is not the case. Ticks carry many different strains of bacteria, and many of them are harmful to humans, not just borrelia. Co-infections can seriously cause havoc with a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, as they perform different debilitating functions, depending on the infection. Some can compound the symptoms of Lyme disease; some deplete white blood cells; and some even cause similar complications to Lyme, meaning that if co-infections have been missed in the treatment plan, symptoms could re-emerge, despite the patient having undergone specific treatment for borrelia. BCA-clinic are also deeply knowledgeable about co-infections, engineering their treatment plans around testing and expelling these Lyme disease facilitators.
Moving forward, this is the type of approach that needs to become common all over the world. We’ve come a long way from 1975 to 2018, but Lyme disease is still a force to be reckoned with, and demands vigilance and continued study to combat successfully.