NEWS: Part 2 of California doctor writing about own Lyme case; how the bacterium hides from the immune system
In part two of a series in the Willits (CA) News, physician Jon Sterngold discusses why the disease can be so difficult to eradicate.
Living with Lyme: Bacterium can ‘cloak’ itself
By Dr. Jon Sterngold/Special for The Willits News
Posted: 09/30/2009 11:35:49 AM PDT
The bacterial cause of Lyme disease is called Borrelia burgdorferi, named after researcher Willy Burgdorfer, Ph.D, who first identified the germ in 1982.
The spirochete, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium, is unique in the known bacterial realm because of the quantity of DNA it carries that enables it to evade detection and attack the human immune system. It can change its outer protein coat, cloaking itself from immune detection. It also can completely change form, becoming a treatment-resistant cyst, or shed its outer coat to enter our own cells to set up shop.
The success of antibiotic therapy generally depends on the activity level of a bacterium; how fast it grows and how often it reproduces. Most common bacterial diseases we encounter in medicine are from bugs that reproduce in less than 24 hours. When antibiotics “hit” the reproductive or active metabolic machinery of these germs, they die. This is why when we treat common illnesses such as pneumonia or urinary infections, people usually get better in a few days.
The Lyme bacterium, however, has a reproduction cycle as short as a day but as long as about nine months. During a phase of prolonged inactivity, it is very hard to kill. This is one of the reasons an established Lyme infection can be hard to eliminate. It also is thought and there is real data to support this that the Lyme bacterium eventually takes up residence with other co-infecting bacteria, in what is called a biofilm community.
On a microscopic level, the bacteria clump together in a gel-like secretion where they are insulated from our immune system and circulating antibiotics or antibodies. This is their bunker, from which they can wreak havoc by releasing the neurotoxic products of their metabolic life.
It’s an evolutionary match: they thrive in a body they modify to suit their needs. They can suppress our immune systems and alter other vital processes, making us ill, helping them thrive. They don’t tend to kill us, though they sometimes do. It’s a parasitic existence.
In addition to symptoms that stem from inflammation of the brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, joints, and connective tissue which the Lyme bacteria cause through multiple mechanisms we also know the disease can induce another class of illness called autoimmune disease. Maladies such lupus, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) can actually be caused by Lyme disease. These diseases are not considered to be curable, but there are many cases in which the autoimmune disease resolves completely when the Lyme disease has been treated always with long-term, high-dose antibiotics.
Tests to determine whether someone has Lyme disease are problematic. The common tests measure levels of antibodies we produce that are specific to the Lyme bacteria. But, if the bacteria can hide, change form, immunologically “cloak” itself, and suppress our ability to make antibodies, a person quite ill with Lyme can have totally negative tests. What commonly occurs is that after a year or so of antibiotic use which can render some of the bacteria into fragments the immune system can recognize the tests turn positive. The dilemma is that when someone is looking for a diagnosis, an answer to profound suffering, a physician who relies on initial test results may call it wrong, and the patient will have no answer and no effective treatment. This is part of what defines the difference between “Lyme-literate” MDs, who understand the problems with testing and treatment challenges, verses nonLyme-literate physicians who, for some very compelling reasons, can’t or won’t manage this disease. The range and depth of this problem is immense, and will be discussed in the next article.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jon Sterngold is a Willits resident and physician.
To read part one of the series, click here.
To read part three of the series, click here.
Reprinted by permission from the Willits News.
- December 5, 2012 at 2:03 am
Thank you for bringing atntteion to Lyme Disease. As someone who had a delayed diagnosis and has been off and on bed ridden for 18 years I can also attest to the important role co-infections play in this disease. People who are chronically ill with Lyme also have the added weight of Babesia (a malarial now in our blood supply), Bartonella (17 strains of Cat Scratch Fever) and Mycoplasma (behind Gulf War Syndrome) to name just a few. It reminds me of the fairway game where you try and hit the little groundhogs as they emerge from their holes .. you knock one down and another pops up. How does one tick carry so many different bacterium is the question I would like answered. It doesn’t seem to be a recipe out of Mother Natures cookbook. Lab 257 is a book that has some answers.Constant courses of antibiotics keep me functioning. When they are withdrawn I float for a bit then relapse, and to think at one point I was so pure I wouldn’t take an aspirin. Thanks for your thoughts, Hazel
- November 28, 2013 at 5:41 pm
Hello & thank you for your very personal & descriptive articles on Lyme. I hope you are well now. To read your account of your illness is like revisiting mine. Thank you so much! I became very ill about 25 years ago when I went down with every symptom attributed to Me/CFS plus ciguatera poisoning. My husband took me to specialists everywhere. Orthopaedic specialists considered I had Lyme back then due to both my swollen knees suddenly afflicted with severe arthritis. I became bed ridden for a long time & due to this could not follow up on any appointments. Both my knees had to be replaced. My sister is now in the late stages of MND & I have only just begun Plaquenil & Minocycline for the now diagnosed Lyme. I am terrified I may be a candidate for MND & am so grateful to be reading your story & trust all is well for you now. I have had the IGenex test which came back very positive for Lyme. I am seeing a Lyme literate doctor at Maleny Qld Australia who has been excellent & I hope this is the right track to go down especially now my sister is dying with this horrid MND. I congratulate you on the wonderful informative articles & trust I am not too late to get my health back. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Keep well. Good luck for the future & once again thank you on behalf of all the sufferers. Have a nice day & a happy long life. Thank you for your valued time reading this. Best wishes Sincerely Joy Daniel 170 Esplanade Hervey Bay 4655 Qld Aust.
- March 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm
About forming of bacterial microfilm, NAC might help:
- April 1, 2014 at 1:45 pm
Few things, among others, might help:
There are many bacteria fighting substances in raw fruits and vegetables to. Avoid unsaturated fats and simple sugar etc.
Good luck 🙂
- September 19, 2016 at 9:42 am
Persistent little bug/bacteria/disease
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