Understanding Lyme Disease Symptoms, Implications, and Coinfections

Teen scratching itchy eyes complaining outdoors⁠ due to Lyme disease symptoms and wondering can Lyme disease kill you

Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium *Borrelia burgdorferi*, is a well-known tick-borne illness prevalent in North America, Europe, and Asia. However, what often complicates diagnosis and treatment are coinfections — additional infections transmitted alongside Lyme disease by the same tick bite. These coinfections can exacerbate Lyme disease symptoms and pose significant challenges in clinical management.

Lyme Disease Symptoms and Transmission

Lyme disease typically begins with a distinctive bull’s-eye rash called erythema migrans, however it might not always be present even IF there is disease present. Other symptoms that may accompany an acute infectious exposure can be flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, large joint, and muscle aches. If untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system, causing more severe symptoms like arthritis and neurological problems. The transmission occurs primarily through the bite of infected black-legged ticks (*Ixodes scapularis* in North America, *Ixodes ricinus* in Europe, and *Ixodes persulcatus* in Asia), which often feed on deer and other mammals. Chronic Lyme disease symptoms can include ongoing joint pain, fatigue that is persistent, cognitive or memory changes, vision disturbances, foot pain, experiencing air hunger, or anxiety or panic attacks. 

Common Coinfections and Their Impact

Several pathogens can coinfect individuals already infected with Lyme disease, notably:

1. Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis:** Both caused by bacteria (*Anaplasma phagocytophilum* and *Ehrlichia chaffeensis*), these infections present with fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. They can occur alongside or independently of Lyme disease, complicating diagnosis when symptoms overlap.

2. Babesiosis:** A parasitic infection caused by *Babesia microti* and other species, babesiosis manifests with Lyme disease symptoms similar to malaria, including fever, chills, sweats, and fatigue. Severe cases can lead to hemolytic anemia and organ failure, especially in immunocompromised individuals.

3. Bartonellosis:** Caused by various *Bartonella* species, this infection can lead to cat scratch disease and present with persistent lymph node swelling, fever, and neurological symptoms, further complicating the clinical picture in Lyme disease patients.

Diagnostic Challenges

Diagnosing Lyme disease itself is often difficult due to the variability of symptoms and the potential for false negatives in laboratory testing, especially early in the infection. Coinfections add another layer of complexity, as Lyme disease symptoms may overlap or mask each other, delaying accurate diagnosis and treatment initiation. Clinicians must consider geographical location, recent tick bites, and exposure history when evaluating patients for Lyme disease and coinfections. There are expanded testing options and should be considered after having a thorough evaluation by a functional health provider to help determine if you meet the criteria for further investigation. 

Treatment Considerations

Treatment of Lyme disease usually involves antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime, depending on the stage and severity of the infection. However, when coinfections are suspected or confirmed, treatment protocols may need adjustment to target multiple pathogens simultaneously. This approach aims to prevent chronic symptoms and long-term complications associated with untreated or undertreated infections. There are also broad spectrum herbals that can be used along side the use of conventional medications. These are supportive treatment options that should not be dismissed when looking at how to treat infections and also can be used for prophylaxis during tick season. Schedule with Sarah to learn more.

Lyme disease and its coinfections represent a significant public health challenge, particularly in regions where tick populations are prevalent. Early recognition of Lyme disease symptoms, prompt diagnosis, and appropriate treatment are crucial in preventing complications and improving patient outcomes. Researchers continue to study the interactions between *Borrelia burgdorferi* and coinfecting pathogens to refine diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies. Public awareness of tick bite prevention remains essential in reducing the incidence of these complex infections. If you see a tick on you, save it and send it for testing. There are many tick test sites that will confirm the presence of any of the pathogens mentioned in this article. 

In summary, Lyme disease and its coinfections underscore the importance of vigilance in outdoor activities and timely medical intervention. By understanding Lyme disease symptoms and implications of these infections, healthcare providers and the public can collaborate effectively to mitigate their impact on individuals and communities.

June 28, 2024

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Early - Peony's WIH

Sarah Early - MSN, APRN-FNP-C, IBCLC

Sarah graduated from a Masters in Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner graduate program with high distinction and was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society for Nurses while working and running Lactation Room. Her clinical education and training paved the way for her newest journey in private practice, Peony Women’s Integrative Health, which she opened in 2023. Working as a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner she serves clients in the DMV. Peony WIH focuses on caring for women with a root-cause, integrative, and functional medicine approach to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. PWIH provides in-office health consults with Sarah, integrative and functional nutrition support by a Registered Dietician, and Craniosacral therapy services. Sarah is focused on addressing the needs of women in the community through a patient-centered and collaborative approach to care. She is an active member of ILCA, USLCA, IATP, AHNA, AANP, and MBC.

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