A. The ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria also often carry microorganisms that cause other diseases. The most common “co-infections” are Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Bartonellosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever may be cured by the same antibiotics that are prescribed for Lyme disease. But Babesiosis is a different type of disease, caused by a blood parasite and not a bacterium. Antibiotics alone are not effective against Babesiosis. Bartonellosis is a bacterial disease, but it requires different antibiotics from those used to treat LD. All are found in ticks, but some, like Bartonellosis may be spread more often from flea bites.
Basics – Co-Infections
A. There are newly-discovered species of tick-borne borrelia that can cause different symptoms. Borrelia mayonii causes symptoms similar to Lyme disease but nausea and vomiting are more common with this infection and the rash is different from the bull’s eye rash of LD. It has been identified mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota to date.
Borrelia miyomotoi causes recurrent fevers, along with other symptoms common in LD. It has been identified mostly in the Northeastern U.S. The effects of this disease are somewhat different and more intense than in typical Lyme disease. It can be acquired from the bite of a larval deer tick, which are too small for most people to even recognize as a tick. Doxycycline is used to initially treat both of these new LD variants. Little is known about these diseases at this time.
Powassan Fever is a serious viral infection that can be fatal. Half of the patients contracting this disease will have permanent neurological damage. This disease causes serious neurological symptoms, including brain and spinal cord inflammation, severe headache, stiff neck, and seizures, as well as many of the other symptoms caused by LD. There is a diagnostic test, but few labs are capable of doing the test. There is no treatment except supportive care. According to CDC records, about 11% of patients die from Powassan Fever. It is still relatively rare, with under 100 cases reported to the CDC since 2004, but there may be many more undiagnosed cases. Powassan Fever can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after a tick attaches.
Heartland and Bourbon viruses are other recently discovered tickborne diseases, which can be deadly. They have been found mostly in Missouri and Tennessee, spread by infected Lone-Star ticks. There is evidence that other biting insects might also spread these diseases. There is no test and no treatment. They are still rare diseases.
Morgellons disease is an emerging disease that causes strange symptoms. It is the least understood and most controversial of the tick-borne diseases. One unique characteristic of Morgellons is the appearance of fibers growing out of the skin, accompanied by severe itching. Morgellons patients often experience sensations of something crawling under their skin, which leads many doctors to conclude that the patient has a psychiatric problem. However, experiments have shown that dogs can have the same fibers and symptoms. New organisms such as viruses and microscopic worms are being discovered in ticks. Their role in human illness is not yet known.
A. This is a new and mysterious condition that seems to be related to the bite of the Lone Star tick. It causes some people to develop a serious, and sometimes life-threatening, reaction to eating beef, pork, and sometimes milk. It is not known yet if this is a permanent condition. Epinephrine may be required in the case of a serious reaction. Lone Star ticks have spread from the South and Southwest to much of the rest of the U.S. in recent years. They are much more aggressive than deer ticks.
A. Few doctors are familiar with these other tick-borne diseases. They may fail to recognize the symptoms or test for these diseases, so many people are suffering from untreated infections. The lab tests for these coinfections have many of the same problems as LD tests. Often it is this combination of diseases that makes the patient so mystifyingly ill and unresponsive to treatment. If treatment for LD is unsuccessful, suspect tick-borne co-infections.