The tick is the primary carrier of this bacterial infection

May 07, 2001

The tick is the primary carrier of this bacterial infection


As people venture outdoors to get reacquainted with nature, they may become unhappy hosts.

The guests in question are ticks, which need a healthy dose of blood to get them through the larva, nymph and adult stages of their lives.

If ticks feed on an animal infected with Lyme disease, they will become infected, according to the Lyme Disease Foundation Inc. Web site, They are then able to transmit the disease to other hosts, including humans.

Lyme disease is a multisystem bacterial infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdoferi (Bb), according to the Lyme Disease Foundation. Other spirochetes - long, thin, spiral-shaped bacteria - can cause syphilis, relapsing fever and gum disease.


While the organism has been found in mosquitoes and deer flies, there is no research to show if it can be transmitted by those insects to animals and people, said Rita Stanley, a spokesperson for Lyme Alliance Inc. The tick is the primary carrier, she said.

There are countless symptoms of the disease, such as fatigue, unexplained changes in weight, swollen glands, vision impairment, and stiffness in the joints, neck or back. Such problems are often associated with other illnesses, including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome, making diagnosis difficult.

Because of that, Lyme patient Frank Boddicker, 47, of Knoxville, Md., said the disease is sometimes called "the great masquerader."

The disease may make itself known by the presence of a rash near the spot where a person was bitten.

It may look like a bull's-eye, but "sometimes it's just a red splotch," said Dr. Dino J. Delaportas, a Hagerstown internist whose subspecialty is infectious diseases. The rash may also be a flat patch or triangular, possibly due to different species that cause it, Stanley said.

The month of May is designated as Lyme Disease Awareness Month, falling at the beginning of what many consider to be prime risk time for Lyme - spring to autumn. Ticks can be prevalent in temperatures of 40 degrees and higher, Stanley said.


According to the Lyme Disease Foundation, the disease is diagnosed clinically, based on signs and symptoms. There is no test that can determine if a patient is infected with Lyme disease bacterium or to demonstrate that a patient is free of it.

Some tests available that aid in diagnosis:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Titer - Measures the level of Bb antibodies in fluid

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Western blot - Produces bands indicating the immune system's reactivity to Bb

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Antigen detection - Detects a Bb protein in fluid, such as urine


According to the Lyme Disease Foundation, oral antibiotics may treat early stages of infection. Long-term or disseminated Lyme responds best to one or several courses of oral or intravenous antibiotics, according to the foundation.

Stanley disagrees.

"A cure to me is ridding the body of all the organisms," said Stanley, 51, of Portland, Ore., who was bitten by a tick in 1991 in Portland but said she may have had Lyme disease since she was a child growing up near Hazleton, Pa. There is no test to determine if the organisms are gone, she said.

Lyme patients can be symptom-free, though, said Stanley, who was on antibiotics for six years and is in remission.

While some people believe that Lyme can be cured with a monthlong antibiotic treatment, doctors and patients know otherwise, Stanley said.

"We know that is not the case, particularly if it is fully disseminated," she said.

There are more experimental treatments being used, including hyperbaric oxygen and natural products such as herbs.


In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration approved the LYMErix vaccine created by SmithKline Beecham.

The vaccine, which is injected into the arm, has caused a stir.

"The vaccine is very controversial right now," Delaportas said, primarily because of reactions that mimic chronic Lyme disease.

Delaportas said he does not recommend the vaccine, though he admitted it may be practical for people who are at high risk of getting Lyme disease, such as park service personnel, or those living in areas where the disease is prevalent.

The Herald-Mail Articles