top of page

Lyme Disease & Co-Infections

Lyme disease is a complex condition that has stumped researchers and patients alike. At first glance, the culprit behind this disease seems straightforward: an infected tick that bites and transmits bacteria to humans. However, the reality is far more nuanced. 

When Borrelia burgdorferi or Borrelia mayonii bacteria enter the body, they wreak havoc, often in subtle ways initially. These pathogenic spirochetes - corkscrew-shaped bacteria - make their way into tissues and trigger an inflammatory immune response. This can eventually lead to the telltale bull's eye rash, arthritis, heart issues, and neurological problems. 

Though ticks are currently the main vector for transmission, some evidence suggests that other insects like mosquitoes, flies, and fleas may also be capable of carrying and spreading Borrelia. The role of these insects is controversial and not yet fully understood.

Ultimately, Lyme disease manifests in complex ways, evading the immune system and our attempts to fully grasp it. Researchers still have many unanswered questions about transmission methods, diagnostic testing, optimal treatments, and more. What we do know is that Lyme disease has a formidable ability to stealthily invade the body and require a multi-pronged effort to identify and treat. There are still many mysteries to unravel in our pursuit to conquer this elusive illness.

Beware the Bite: Multiple Infections From a Single Tick 

Lyme disease is no longer a lone threat. Co-infections transmitted by the same tick bite are increasingly being recognized as the rule rather than the exception. Babesia, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichia, Bartonella - these complex tongue-twisters represent some of the most common microscopic stowaways that can accompany Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme. Even a previously unknown Lyme-like organism called Borrelia miyamotoi has joined the party. Don't forget STARI, or Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, also spread by tick bites in certain regions.

 

The tiny tick vectors carry a growing menagerie of disease-causing microbes, so multiple infections from a single bite are becoming more likely. Be vigilant about tick protection and aware of the multitude of bugs one bite can transmit.

Some of the co-infections that are commonly found in Lyme disease patients:

Babesia

Babesia is a fascinating parasite with a unique lifecycle. This microscopic invader infiltrates red blood cells, using them as hosts to multiply. Transmission usually occurs when an infected tick takes a blood meal, injecting Babesia into the new host. However, Babesia can also spread through blood transfusions, making screening important for at-risk donors. Congenital transmission from mother to fetus has been reported as well. Understanding all transmission routes is key to controlling the spread of this elusive parasite. While Babesia may seem insignificant, appreciating the intricacies of its biology allows us to better protect against infection.

Bartonella

From the forests of New Jersey to the coasts of California, ticks carrying Bartonella bacteria have been discovered lurking in the wilderness. While many know Bartonella for causing "cat scratch fever" from feline scratches and bites, ticks have proven to be stealthy transmitters of this pathogenic bacteria as well. In fact, ticks and rodents are crucial to spreading Bartonella far and wide in nature. When transmitted to humans by a tick, Bartonella can lead to an array of concerning symptoms. Patients may develop a unique rash of streaky marks resembling stretch marks. Fever, headaches, fatigue, and swollen glands have also been reported. While ticks are best known for transmitting Lyme disease, it's clear these arthropods also readily spread other dangerous bacteria. Bartonella is yet another reason to beware of ticks when enjoying the great outdoors.

Ehrlichia

A stealthy foe lurks in the tiny tick. This microscopic menace, Ehrlichia, infiltrates and infects white blood cells, eluding the body's defenses. Though its primary target is circulating leukocytes, this bacterial villain also invades other organs like the spleen, lymph nodes, and kidneys. An Ehrlichia infection, if not quickly recognized and treated, can rapidly lead to a condition called Ehrlichiosis, with fever, chills, muscle aches, and damage to multiple organ systems. Vigilance is key against this tick-borne threat. Careful tick checks and prompt removal can help thwart transmission of Ehrlichia before it can gain a foothold and wreak havoc. While tiny, this bacteria is not to be underestimated or overlooked. Awareness and early action provide our best protection.

bottom of page