Autopsies Should Look for Lyme Carditis in Cases of Unexpected Death Lyme disease should not be overruled as a case of death in unexplained cases.

By Phyllis Mervine

A friend of mine died last year in her sleep. She was only 49. Although she wasn’t my close friend, she was a very close friend of close friends, so it was still shocking, as well as totally unexpected. Suspecting something cardiac, her family scheduled an autopsy. I don’t know her history or if she had any health complaints recently. I also don’t know what they found in the autopsy, but being a Lyme advocate, I immediately thought of Lyme carditis and decided I should try to educate the forensic pathologist who would be responsible for conducting the autopsy. After all, he was unlikely to look without my prodding and probably was unaware that our county in northern California is a high-risk area for Lyme. I also remembered a talk I had heard a couple of years ago at the Lyme Disease Association conference.

When Young People Die Suddenly

In his talk, a young doctor from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) described three cases where young people had died suddenly and had donated tissues to a tissue bank for possible transplantation. Testing at the tissue bank showed inflammation in tissue from their hearts, suggestive of Lyme carditis. Further tests were positive for infection with the spirochetes that cause Lyme disease.

A case of a patient who as a hiker but had no known tick contact died of Lyme carditis.
Relatives of one patient said he had had a flu-like illness with muscle and joint pain during the two weeks preceding death. The patient also lived with a dog that was reported to have ticks frequently. Another patient had been diagnosed with a cardiac conduction abnormality in the past and was a hiker but had no known tick contact or rashes. The third patient had seen a doctor for episodes of shortness of breath and anxiety the day before he died. He was given anti-anxiety medication but no one suggested Lyme disease, although he lived on a heavily wooded lot in Connecticut and had frequent tick exposure.

The CDC immediately issued an advisory to medical examiners and pathologists in its MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report): “Three Sudden Cardiac Deaths Associated with Lyme Carditis—United States, November 2012–July 2013.” The article said,….Join or login below to continue reading.

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