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Learn about tick-borne illness, how it can become chronic, the challenges with traditional treatment options, and how patients can begin healing.

Unveiling Borrelia burgdorferi: Lyme Disease's Culprit

by Dr. Jamie Kunkle

Lyme disease, the most prevalent vector-borne illness in the United States, is caused primarily by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Spread through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, acute Lyme disease manifests with a range of symptoms, including fever, headache, ftigue, and the hallmark skin rash known as erythema migrans. There are many species and strains of Lyme-causing Borrelia, including: Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii. Until recently, these were the three primary species of Borrelia burgdorferi recognized by scientists. However, at least 18 distinct classifications of Lyme-causing bacteria have since been discovered.

Borrelia’s Journey in the Body:

Named after scientist Willy Burgdorfer, who identified it in the early 1980s, Borrelia burgdorferi showcases distinctive characteristics. Its spiral-shaped, corkscrew-like structure, known as a spirochete, propels it with a twisting motion. Remarkably, Borrelia’s slow replication rate and its ability to thrive without iron, relying instead on manganese, set it apart from other bacteria.

Borrelia’s Peculiar Presence:

Borrelia burgdorferi deviates from conventional disease-causing bacteria in notable ways. Rather than releasing toxins, it engages in direct interactions with host cell tissues. Moreover, its slow replication rate ensures that even during active infection, bacterial numbers in the host remain relatively low.

Once a tick carrying Borrelia bites a human or another animal host, the spirochetes embark on a transformative journey. They replicate in the tick’s midgut, migrate to its salivary glands, and then enter the host’s bloodstream. Depending on the strain, Borrelia may disseminate through the bloodstream, causing various chronic symptoms such as arthritis, neurological issues, and cardiovascular complications. Animal studies illustrate Borrelia’s pervasive presence in tissues and organs, including the skin, joints, heart, bladder, central and peripheral nervous system.

Associated Early Lyme Disease Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Erythema migrans (characteristic skin rash)
  • Sweats
  • Chills
  • Muscle Pain
  • Joint pain
  • Neck pain
  • Sleep disturbance

Associated Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Other pain
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Cognitive issues
  • Neuropathy
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Cardiovascular symptoms

Understanding the intricacies of Borrelia burgdorferi is crucial in combating Lyme disease effectively. Its unique properties, coupled with its ability to cause diverse symptoms and evade detection, underscore the need for comprehensive approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. By unraveling the mysteries surrounding Borrelia, researchers and healthcare professionals can develop targeted interventions to mitigate the impact of Lyme disease on affected individuals and communities.