(NaturalHealth365) According to the CDC, Lyme disease strikes over 329,000 Americans every year. Characterized by early symptoms of fever, headache, fatigue and skin rash, untreated Lyme disease can spread to the brain, nervous system, joints and heart, with serious, even life-threatening effects.
Now researchers are finding out that the pathogen responsible for the disease is endlessly changeable and elusive, capable of defeating the immune system with tricks worthy of a master spy.
Lyme disease bacterium uses ‘sneaky’ tactics
Lyme disease, caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium – or spirochete – is spread by the bite of an infected deer tick. As soon as the tick punctures the skin, the deception begins – with immune modulators in the tick’s saliva covering the spirochete like a “cloaking device” and concealing it from the host’s immune system.
This strategy allows Lyme bacteria to evade both the natural immune response and regimens of man-made antibiotics.
Because of this subterfuge, it can take weeks for the immune system to recognize the pathogen and produce antibodies – the reason that common blood tests such as the ELISA and the Western blot fail to show the disease if used too soon after a tick bite and infection.
Borrelia hides inside the human body
The immune system normally recognizes pathogens by their cell wall proteins, and then produces antibodies to combat the threat. But when Borrelia enters the body, it alters its outer cell wall proteins so it can’t be identified correctly by the immune system.
When the immune system finally does launch an attack, it is often futile against the spirochete – which continues to change.
Meanwhile, the toxin-releasing immune cells – such as neutrophils, monocytes, and microphages – that were generated in an attempt to destroy the invader go on to cause inflammation throughout the entire body, damaging tissues and organs in the process.
Lyme disease microbe benefits from unusual strategies – even “playing dead”
The Borrelia bacterium has several other unique features that help it evade the body’s natural defense systems – including a whip-like mechanism that propels it through body tissues that would ordinarily stop bacteria from progressing.
The Borrelia bacterium also lacks the classic “Achilles heel” that cause many pathogens to be destroyed by the immune system – the metabolism of iron. Unlike every other organism in the world, this bacterium can exist without iron, which is normally essential for making proteins and enzymes.
Because it uses the mineral manganese to produce essential substances, the usual technique of the immune system – designed to deprive pathogens of iron – doesn’t work.
Astonishingly, Borrelia spirochetes can even exist in a non-metabolic state – a sort of “suspended animation” that makes them temporarily immune to antibiotics.
When the spirochetes re-activate, they begin to metabolize all over again – the reason that Lyme disease “remissions” can turn back to relapses. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Borrelia has one more trick up its sleeve.
Borrelia bacterium uses “deep cover”
A 2011 animal study conducted at the UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine and published in PLOS showed that Borrelia spirochetes can hide in lymph nodes – a strategy that makes the body’s classic antibody response ineffective.
Although researchers found that the lymph nodes’ infection-fighting B-cells produced antibodies against the Lyme disease pathogens, they weren’t able to form structures that are essential for a functional and long-lived immune response.
Researchers concluded that the Borrelia bacteria had “struck an intricate balance that allows the bacteria to both provoke and elude the… immune response.”
Myths and misconceptions surround Lyme disease
There is much public misinformation about Lyme disease, with many believing that Lyme disease can be easily diagnosed by simple blood tests and the appearance of a characteristic “bull’s-eye rash” surrounding the infection site. Other myths include the belief that Lyme disease is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics – and may even “go away on its own.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The fact is: only 50 percent of Lyme patients develop the “bull’s-eye” rash, and some people never develop any type of skin rash at all. Keep in mind, the ELISA test used by most doctors misses 35 percent of Lyme disease – with some studies showing that up to 50 percent of Lyme patients tested receive false negatives.
Contrary to popular belief, short courses of antibiotics don’t cure chronic Lyme disease – and the disease doesn’t resolve on its own. In fact, all evidence points to the need for a multi-system, integrated treatment, using immune modulators, anticoagulants, hormonal therapies, anti-Lyme supplements and antibiotics.
More myths persist about Lyme
Other myths include the belief that Lyme disease is never fatal – and that a tick needs to be attached to the victim’s body for a full 24 hours in order to pass along the infection.
Although deaths are rare, Lyme disease has been associated with several cases of fatal heart attack. And researchers say that Lyme disease in the brain could also cause fatal encephalomyelitis.
Finally, it is not necessary for the tick to be fully engorged with blood – or to hang on for 24 hours – to spread the disease.
Although mainstream medicine attempts to downplay the effects and extent of Lyme disease, it is a baffling and difficult-to-diagnose condition that can become debilitating if left untreated.
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