In this section,
we will review why Lyme disease is so complicated through descriptions of the other bacterial co-infections that often are involved. We want to empower you with as much information as possible; however, this type of information can be confusing and complicated. If you are suffering from one of the common symptoms of Lyme, like brain fog or cognitive issues, feel free to take your time or ask a friend or family member to go through it with you.
Lyme & Co-infections:
Unfortunately, when we talk about Lyme disease, we are not just talking about one infection. Borrelia burgdorferi is the bacteria that causes Lyme disease; however, Borrelia is virtually never contracted alone. There are a number of additional infections, called co-infections, that are contracted along with Borrelia when a person is bitten by a tick. Let’s review the Bugs that are to Blame for your symptoms:
Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorferi)
Borrelia is the corkscrew-shaped spirochete bacteria that causes Lyme disease. There are more than 100 Borrelia species identified in the US that are a risk to human health and cause disease.
To get a more in-depth look at Lyme disease/Borrelia burgdorferi, follow this link
Babesia is a protozoan parasite that infects red blood cells. It is closely related to malaria.
- Air hunger
- Shortness of breath on slight exertion
- Night sweats
- Fever (from low grade up to very high)
- Flu-like chills
- Temperature regulation problems (feeling too hot or too cold)
- Severe headaches (usually sharp)
Like the other co-infections, babesia is transmitted by a tick bite; however, recent studies suggest that the donor blood supply used for blood transfusions may also be compromised with babesia.
Bartonella is a bacterium that can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but it mostly lives in the lining of blood vessels and is associated with nervous system symptoms.
The two most common forms of bartonella infections are bartonella henselae (cat scratch disease) and bartonella quintana (trench fever) but there are more than 17 species associated with human illness. It is quite common in the general healthy population, but problems happen when the immune system does not function well and this opportunistic infection can manifest in the body.
Common symptoms of Bartonella:
- Bone pain
- Nerve pain
- Foot pain (usually worse in the morning)
- Eye pain and discomfort
- Blurry eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Brain fog
- Interstitial cystitis
- Stiff neck
Like Lyme and other co-infections, bartonella can be transmitted through the bites of ticks and other insects but can also be transmitted through cat bites and saliva and even human saliva.
Ehrlichia and Anaplasma
Ehrlichia and anaplasma are very common Lyme co-infections.
Acute infections have symptoms of:
- Low white blood cells & platelets
- Muscle pain
- Skin rash
- Elevated liver enzymes
Infections can become chronic, last for months to years, with recurring symptoms in mild to moderate episodes.
Both are transmitted by ticks and are predominantly found in the Eastern, Northeastern, and Southeastern United States.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Q Fever are both intracellular Rickettsial infections.
Acute symptoms of RMSF is very similar to many of the tick-borne infections:
- Muscle pain
- Intense headaches
- Red or purple spotted skin rash
These are tiny organisms with an ability to persist for years, even decades, in the body of the host. Both are transmitted by the bite of a tick.
Mycoplasmas are tiny bacteria that behave like a virus. They can make you feel incredibly exhausted. If you have been feeling unreasonably tired, you could possibly have an issue with this family of bugs. Mycoplasma likes to eat myelin, the insulative layer around nerve cells and can be the reason for nervous system symptoms.
Common symptoms include:
- Severe fatigue and exhaustion
- Nervous system issues similar to those of MS
It is a very common co-infection due to its ability to persist in your body from a few years to a lifetime. Like other co-infections, it is transmitted by tick bite but can also be contracted sexually.
Many people with Lyme disease also have at least one of two common Chlamydia infections. Chlamydia species are atypical, intracellular, and very stealthy bacteria.
Chlamydia pneumoniae causes respiratory infections, like sinusitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia. It’s the most common bacterial contributor to chronic fatigue syndrome. It is also implicated in many cardiovascular issues like heart attacks, strokes, coronary artery disease, and atherosclerosis.
Chlamydia trachomatis, which is a known sexually transmitted infection, is also common with Lyme disease. It becomes opportunist in those with Lyme disease as the immune system is compromised and can’t fight this infection.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a member of the herpes family of viruses.
The most frequent signs and symptoms are:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Upper respiratory symptoms
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle pain
When this opportunistic virus is in your system, it behaves in a similar way to Chickenpox in that it can survive inside your cells for decades. When Lyme and mold induce chronic inflammation, the immune system is not as effective as it should be, which provides the ideal environment for opportunists like EBV to activate and cause symptoms.
Unlike the other co-infections, Epstein-Barr is not transmitted by tick bites, but it is a common problem for many Lyme patients. More than 90% of adults worldwide have been infected by this virus, and it is thought to be transmitted via saliva from coughing, sneezing, and kissing.