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Unlocking the Puzzle of Lyme Disease: Multiple infections can make it difficult to diagnose, says Dr. Paul Stallone

Feb 01, 2013 03:52PM ● By Paul Stallone, NMD

Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread through the bite of the blacklegged tick, is difficult to diagnose and treat. Diagnosing Lyme can be a long journey without an experienced doctor. Testing isn’t cut and dried as with some other diseases. Accurate testing may be based on detecting antibodies your body produces in order to fight the pathogens you’ve contracted, or by detecting the antigens themselves.

But these sneaky organisms, if not diagnosed and treated early, can spread and can go into hiding in your body. Weeks, months or years may go by before problems with your brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, heart and circulation, digestion, reproductive system, and skin send you to your doctor. All agree that early detection is key to a successful treatment.

Unfortunately, you may need to consider possible co-infections or you could be treating half the problem. Co-infections generally result in more severe illness, more symptoms and a longer recovery. It’s very possible for a single tick to harbor more than one disease; a separate disease may require a separate diagnosis and treatment protocol. More and more cases of co-infections are being reported each year, with some diseases still being discovered.

One of the main difficulties with multiple infections is that symptoms are often non-specific. Symptoms like fever, chills, headache and fatigue are common enough that making a diagnosis based on these symptoms alone can be complicated. Lyme disease is often referred to as “the great imitator” because symptoms can mimic many other diseases. Symptoms and treatment of co-infections can be as complex as Lyme itself. Some symptoms may disappear without treatment while other symptoms may appear at different stages.

Babesiosis – One of the more common of co-infections, it infects the red blood cells. Mild symptoms can include fever and anemia. As the infection progresses symptoms may increase to fatigue, headache, drenching sweats, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting. Babesiosis can be life-threatening to people with weak immune systems or no spleen. Complications include very low blood pressure, liver problems, severe hemolytic anemia (a breakdown of red blood cells) and kidney failure.

Ehrlichiosis – Another common co-infection, it is classified into two sub-groups, based on the type of white blood cell it infects. HME (human monocytic ehrlichiosis) infects monocytes and HGE (human granulocytic ehrlichiosis) infects granulocytes. HGE was renamed anaplasmosis in 2003. Each sub-type can result in sudden high-grade fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches. Although both are usually mild, they can be life threatening. Complications can include low white blood cell count, low platelet count, anemia, elevated liver enzymes, kidney failure and respiratory disease.

Bartonellosis – Another co-infection, this may be carried by fleas, body lice and ticks. However, scientists suspect that only ticks are responsible for infecting humans. In more serious cases of bartonellosis, the whole body can be affected. Early symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, poor appetite and an unusual, horizontal rash. Swollen glands are characteristic, especially around the head, neck and arms. An experienced physician may suspect bartonellosis when neurological symptoms outweigh common Lyme-related symptoms. Gastritis, lower abdominal pain, sore soles and tender subcutaneous nodules along limbs can also lead to further testing to confirm this co-infection.

Usually, co-infections are suspected when a patient doesn’t respond well to treatment and it becomes obvious that something else is causing the symptoms. By this point, delayed treatment can impair the recovery process. By speaking with a Lyme disease-experienced physician, these co-diseases can be ruled out or addressed at an early stage, when it matters the most.

Many disagree about the standard of care when it comes to treating these diseases. Most conventional methods include the patient being on an antibiotic for months at a time, and some insurance companies won’t authorize further treatment if and when antibiotics don’t work. Long-term use of antibiotics can be very dangerous and may lead into serious complications in the future. There are many safe, natural alternatives that may effectively treat Lyme and co-infections. Many of these compliment conventional treatment.

It’s becoming obvious that we can’t just treat one disease when multiple can be present. With more advanced testing, co-infections are now being explored, but with these diseases still relatively new, some Lyme patients may go on with a singular treatment aimed just at addressing Lyme.

Paul Stallone, NMD, founded the Arizona Integrative Medical Center, located at 8144 E. Cactus Rd., Ste. 820, in Scottsdale. He combines natural/alternative/conventional treatments to best fit and benefit each individual patient’s needs. For more information, call 480-214-3922 or visit

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