Lyme disease is complicated for doctors and patients alike because it comes in two distinct forms. The first, acute Lyme disease, presents much like a fever, and will often be accompanied by a bullseye rash, a prime indicator of the disease. This acute stage will usually last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month, at which point symptoms will subside. The symptoms may not be very pronounced or severe in the first place, which makes this critical window of opportunity easy to miss. Once Lyme disease progresses to the chronic stage, it becomes immeasurably more difficult to both treat and diagnose. Diagnosis of chronic Lyme is best achieved via a blood test; but doctors need to know what they’re looking for. BCA-clinic is one of the most prominent Lyme clinics in the world, and tests patient blood samples for Lyme disease on a routine basis. So what exactly happens once you send in a blood sample to BCA-lab?
First of all, it’s important to understand a little about how chronic Lyme disease works. The symptoms of the disease are not triggered solely by the bacteria itself (as is the case with acute Lyme), but also by the immune system’s response to the invading bacteria. Usually our immune systems are pretty robust, and can deal with most of the infections thrown at them. However, the Lyme bacteria, borrelia burgdorferi, seems to trigger the immune response in a significant and damaging way, causing chronic inflammation, pain and fatigue. In fact, it is possible for only trace amounts of Lyme bacteria to be found in a patient, despite ongoing debilitating symptoms. In that sense, the interplay between infection and inflammation symptoms is important to decipher. Unfortunately, it can vary significantly between individual patients.
An ELISpot is a blood test used all over the world to measure the frequency of cytokine-secreting cells. Cytokines are molecules secreted by immune system cells. The presence or absence of specific cytokines can help doctors and scientists diagnose issues with their patients, and provide an understanding of how a specific immune system is reacting to various pathogens. The ELISpot is the traditional blood test to diagnose chronic Lyme, but all too often it returns false negatives. BCA-clinic did not view the test as precise enough, leading them to support the development of a new test, the LymeSpot. Instead of testing for the presence of one cytokine (as the ELISpot does), the LymeSpot tests for two, enabling doctors to receive a clearer, more accurate picture of how the patient in question is dealing with a Lyme disease infection. Subsequently, they can provide more accurate and rapid treatment plans.
BCA-lab is currently the only clinic offering this new precise test to patients. To send a blood sample to BCA-lab, first the patient needs a kit specific to the tests they would like to be done. You can either draw the blood yourself by following the instructions provided with the kit, or enlist the help of your local doctor. Blood samples are then sent directly to the BCA-lab in Augsburg. Upon arrival, the samples are inserted into the laboratory management system and documentation software. Each sample receives a unique barcode for identification purposes; quite an important step when you’re handling a lot of samples!
The blood is stored at a temperature of 4 degrees Celsius until it is ready for testing. During the time, the lab also verifies that the sample quality is sufficient for the ordered tests. The tests are then carried out and validated by the laboratory technicians. In addition, the reliability of the test procedure is constantly monitored by positive and negative control samples. Positives are run to make sure the test is working correctly, while negatives are run to ensure that there is no contamination in the samples during the procedure. The results of the tests are then put back through the laboratory management system, and into the documentation software. The laboratory director then inspects and medically validates them as the final step in the procedure. Finally, the results are sent directly to the patient or physician who ordered them.
This precise blood test is a crucial tool not only for Lyme disease, but for its co-infections as well. Lyme often gets transmitted from ticks to humans with along with any amount of numerous co-infections; these must be treated simultaneously with the overarching Lyme infection.
We are still learning and understanding Lyme disease. It’s a complicated medical subject with no easy answers. However, increased precision in the diagnostic stage is undoubtedly crucial tool for doctors and patients alike. As it stands, diagnosing Lyme is an extremely grey area, and it’s estimated that thousands of misdiagnoses occur every year. To have a chance at successful treatment, patients need to consult with doctors and clinics who understand Lyme disease and the different degrees of symptoms at play. Ordering a preliminary blood test from specialists like BCA-clinic could be an important first step in the road to recovery.