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The Added Battle for Lyme Patients: Co-infections

Holtorf Medical Group

Lyme disease is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves as a complex and serious illness that can cause severe health problems if not treated early and properly.

Learn more about Lyme disease and its symptoms here

However, it is important to note that oftentimes Lyme disease patients are not just fighting the Lyme bacteria, but also other co-infections. More specifically, part of the complication with Lyme disease is that, when bitten by a tick, people can be exposed to other pathogens that also carry illnesses. These are called co-infections. A survey of chronic Lyme-infected individuals found:

  • 50% had at least one co-infection
  • while almost 30% had at least two

So, if you have Lyme disease, there is a chance some of your symptoms may be due to a co-infection.

Below we outline two of the most common Lyme co-infections, their respective symptoms, and how to receive a proper diagnosis:

Bartonella

First reported in 1990, bartonellosis is caused by an infection of Bartonella bacteria. These harmful bacteria are capable of infecting a wide array of organisms.

Bartonella bacteria are most commonly spread by fleas, ticks, and lice. There are several different types of this bacteria. For instance, sand flies in South America carry one strain of Bartonella while human body lice, globally, carry another. Today, scientists have detected 29 different strains of this bacteria with approximately 15 that are capable of causing bartonellosis in humans.

Once Bartonella has infected the body, they primarily occupy the inside lining of blood vessels, specifically, red blood cells, macrophages, and endothelial cells. Until recently, it was believed that cases of bartonellosis tended to be mild, acute, and had little risk of contributing to further disruption. However, doctors have started finding that Bartonella may result in chronic infection.

Depending on the strain of Bartonella, symptoms may vary slightly. Bartonella henselae causes “cat scratch disease” and is associated with a bump or blister at the point of infection, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, headaches, fever, and body aches.

Carrion’s disease (Bartonella bacilliformis) is linked to miliary lesions that ulcerate or bleed, fever, joint pain, and liver and spleen enlargement.

Bartonella quintana’s trench fever causes a fever, rash, bone pain (predominantly in the shins, neck, and back), enlarged lymph nodes, encephalitis, and eye infections.

As Bartonellosis commonly affects the skin, a streak-like rash is perhaps the most indicator of this infection. Other indicators of the condition include: tremors, neurological issues, blurred vision, numbness in the extremities, and psychiatric manifestations.

When Bartonella is attacking an immune system weakened by Lyme, it is possible to develop a more severe manifestation of bartonellosis. Bartonellosis can lead to endocarditis (heart infection) and bacillary angiomatosis (tumor-like masses caused by an infection in blood vessels).

Because bartonellosis can affect multiple bodily systems, it is often misdiagnosed or dismissed by standard practitioners. Proper diagnosis of Bartonella can be conducted through a variety of testing measures including Western Blot, IFAs (Indirect Immunofluorescent Assay), and others.

Babesia

Babesia is a parasite similar to malaria. Both fall into the category of piroplasm, which are organisms that infect red blood cells. Infection of babesia is called babesiosis and is the most common Lyme co-infection as well as the most common piroplasm infection among humans.

The first Babesia species was discovered in 1888 by Hungarian pathologist, Victor Babes. Since then, over 100 distinct strains of Babesia have been identified, but only a few are considered human pathogens. In fact, babesiosis has long been recognized as a disease of cattle and other animals but the first human case was not documented until 1957. A young Croatian farmer was infected with Babesia and died shortly after of kidney failure. By the 1960s, babesiosis cases were documented in North America, and the bacteria is recognized as a serious and potentially harmful human pathogen.

The strain of Babesia that most often affects humans is Babesia microti. Like Lyme, babesia may be transferred via tick. However, it can also be transmitted from mother to unborn child through the transfusion of contaminated blood. This quality makes babesia an exceptionally sinister threat.

Symptoms of babesiosis share several similarities with Lyme. However, it may be distinguished with an initial high fever and chills. Progression of the infection brings with it symptoms including fatigue, headache, sweating, muscle aches, chest and hip pain, and shortness of breath, or air hunger. Fortunately, symptoms of babesiosis tend to be mild and non-life-threatening. However, the mildness of the symptoms also means that the condition is often overlooked until symptoms become more severe.

Because Babesia targets red blood cells, babesiosis is often linked to a condition called hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia is characterized by red blood cells dying at a faster rate than the body can produce new ones. Symptoms include: confusion, dark-colored urine, rapid heart rate, heart murmur, dizziness, fatigue, pale skin, jaundice, and swelling of the spleen and liver.

Unfortunately, when babesia goes untreated, it can lead to more severe complications, especially for immunocompromised individuals.

Because symptoms of babesiosis are largely non-specific, especially early on, it is easily missed by standard practitioners. A blood test is required to check for signs of a Babesia infection. It is also important to check if there are other conditions present with babesiosis such as Lyme disease for optimal treatment.

Final Thought

Patients treated at Holtorf Medical Group have seen an average of 7.2 different physicians prior to their visit to our center, without experiencing significant improvement.

At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to utilize cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to uncover the root cause of your symptoms and treat the source. If you are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, a co-infection, or if you have been previously diagnosed, but aren’t getting the treatment you need, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!

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