Although Lyme disease research has come a long way since it was first discovered back in the 1970s, the scientific and medical communities still have quite a way to go before they can say they’ve conquered the condition. With a growing number of cases around the world, many doctors are working to better diagnose and more effectively treat Lyme disease. Here’s a look at where we’re at in terms of knowledge and understanding of Lyme disease in 2019.
So, what do we know about Lyme disease at the present time? These are the six areas we’ve come to better understand regarding the condition.
We know the danger of Lyme disease will continue to grow.
It’s a good thing that researchers are beginning to understand how to stop the spread of Lyme disease, because the number of people with the condition will most likely continue to grow. Because of climate change (particularly more warm weather) and humans continuing to invade tick habitats, there’s a strong likelihood that tick bites will still be very prevalent in the future. The European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases recently noted that tick-borne illness worldwide will infect even more people than ever before. Climate change has made it evident that ‘longer hot seasons will enlarge the seasonal window for the potential spread of vector-borne diseases and favour larger outbreaks’, as Dr. Giovanni Rezza, Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, stated. Knowing that Lyme disease numbers will increase can actually be a good thing, because this knowledge can be used to push for more in-depth research into ticks and Lyme disease itself.
We better understand how the bacterium works.
The Lyme disease bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi is what gets into your system if you’re bitten by a tick. A US study conducted this year noted that this bacteria has a very particular shape and structure, which makes them dependent on peptides to function. This means that they get peptides from animal hosts (like humans), and that without them, the bacterium can’t survive. With this knowledge, we know that if we can figure out how to disable this mechanism sometime in the future, scientists might then know how to actually stop Lyme bacteria before it can cause any harm.
We know that some small steps won’t do a whole lot to protect us.
While it’s always good to be as cautious as possible to avoid getting bitten by a tick, researchers are learning that not all protective measures are completely necessary. One US study this year found that lawn mowing frequency doesn’t actually influence tick occurrence (even though many people believed lawns mowed more often would prevent ticks from populating there). Although it’s still a good idea to remove grass clippings and other yard debris, you don’t have to stress about mowing your lawn excessively in order to avoid ticks in your garden.
We can better diagnose Lyme disease.
Ever wondered, ‘Why is Lyme disease so hard to diagnose?’ Well, the condition’s symptoms can often mimic other illnesses (such as arthritis, depression, multiple sclerosis, etc.), so doctors often end up making a Lyme disease misdiagnosis. That’s why it’s great news that there are currently more options to diagnose Lyme disease than ever before. Advances have been made in Germany with a test called the ELISpot, which is a more accurate blood test that can offer doctors a better picture of a person’s Lyme condition. There’s also a recent development in what is called machine learning, where artificial intelligence is used to track Lyme disease patients’ symptoms and comorbidities (illnesses that show up at the same time as Lyme). This information can help researchers see patterns with Lyme disease patients, and then allow them to create a framework that can help doctors come up with more effective treatment plans. These treatment options could end up working better for each diagnosed individual, instead of just doctors relying on one-size-fits-all treatments for everyone.
We can treat the condition with a variety of options.
While Lyme disease is traditionally treated with antibiotics, BCA-clinic does provide a number of different treatment options, including interdisciplinary focuses on occupational medicine, immunology, infectious medicine, nutrition science and psychiatry. They also recommend using natural supplements to help support the body’s fight to recover. While there are hopes that a Lyme disease vaccine will be developed, there isn’t one at this time. There has been a great deal of focus on helping to treat the condition with natural products, though. A study from Johns Hopkins noted that treatments derived from garlic, cinnamon and cumin were effective. Other ingredients such as pimento, palm rose, myrrh, ginger flowers, thyme and lemon eucalyptus all showed they could be even more effective than antibiotics in fighting against Lyme bacteria. The author of the study, Ying Zhang, noted: ‘We found that these essential oils were even better at killing the “persister” forms of Lyme bacteria than standard Lyme antibiotics.’ However, more research needs to be conducted to see how these oils can be transformed into a medication suitable for Lyme patients.
We better understand chronic Lyme disease.
Although much more research needs to be conducted, there has been some increased understanding of chronic Lyme disease (also known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, or PTLDS). Some research by Johns Hopkins has shown that people with PTLDS have a certain kind of brain inflammation (which is likely the source of their higher inflammation levels). Before this study, researchers were unaware what was causing these patients to have elevated inflammation in their systems. These scientists have also started using a three-antibiotic ‘cocktail’, which fights the ‘persister’ bacteria that lingers after initial antibiotic treatments. Additional research will need to be done to figure out more about why chronic Lyme or PTLDS develops and what is the best way to treat it going forward.
What do we still need to know about Lyme disease in the upcoming years?
We do need further research into the exact numbers of Lyme cases around the world (since the figures vary largely and are not completely set in stone). More research about the effects of climate change on tick habitats would also help us learn more about why the tick population is expanding and spreading, which can lead to stronger efforts to steer clear of ticks. It would also be helpful if there was a worldwide standard for specific tests used to initially diagnose Lyme disease. If we were able to develop a quantitative test that would be used to track responses to treatment as well, there would be a standard of care for Lyme disease patients everywhere. A better understanding of the entire effects Lyme disease has on the body and brain (especially in chronic cases) would also be beneficial.
In general, we are learning more and more about Lyme disease all the time. However, there is unfortunately still quite a bit of misinformation and ignorance that results in misdiagnoses and ineffective treatment plans. The medical community (and the allies of Lyme disease patients) need to be better educated about the condition in order to develop better diagnosis practices and treatment options. With further research and more awareness of Lyme disease in the future, there will be a stronger, more knowledgeable community to help Lyme disease patients around the world.