Lyme co-infections are not often talked about, but for many patients, they can be a significant component of the disease. Co-infections are infections passed through simultaneously with Lyme, from the same tick bite. Ticks can be carriers of a variety of different bacteria strains, each of them causing different conditions once they infiltrate the host’s system. They can also compound the symptoms of Lyme; some of them add to existing symptoms, while others create new ones. Unfortunately, many doctors are oblivious to the effects and sometimes even existence of Lyme co-infections, and don’t realize the importance of treating all infections together. One of the more recent co-infections discovered stems from bacteria called B. miyamotoi.
The “B.” in the bacteria’s name stands for Borrelia, which is a family of bacteria. One of its other members is Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme-causative bacteria, though B. miyamotoi is a distant relation. It was first identified in 1995 from Japanese ticks, and has since been detected in the black-legged or deer tick, the same species that spreads Lyme disease. As with Lyme, not all ticks of this species carry B. miyamotoi, and not every bite from an infected tick will result in an infection. A tick needs to be attached to its host for a certain period of time before the bacteria can successfully transmit. Experts cannot agree on what length of time that is, however. Similarly to Lyme disease, our best form of defense against B. miyamotoi bacteria lies in prevention and early detection.
As B. miyamotoi bacteria infection is still relatively new, symptoms are still being explored and added to, especially when the disease forms a cocktail with Lyme and other co-infections. The most commonly reported symptoms fall in line with any other infection, at least in the early stages. Fever, chills, headache, fatigue and muscle aches are all typical; if the bacteria continue to infect the body and reach the central nervous system, cognitive symptoms are also a possibility. This can include disorientation, memory loss, brain fog, and cognitive impairment. Treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics, which can clear up cases of B. miyamotoi in many instances. It is, however, possible to suffer multiple instances of the disease, so vigilance is necessary to avoid re-infection.
If you think you might have a B. miyamotoi infection, then the first stage it to get properly tested. All the symptoms of B. miyamotoi infection can also be present from Lyme disease, making the two disorders quite hard to differentiate between. Diagnosing Lyme can be a long and delicate process. Traditionally, a blood test known as the ELISpot test has been utilized. However, due to the ELISpot only testing for the presence of antibodies, all too often it returned a false negative. Antibodies are attacking cells, which fight the invading pathogens as soon as they are detected by the immune system. The presence of antibodies is usually a very good indicator of whether a disease is present, but Lyme is a special case. Chronic Lyme is as much about inflammation as it is about infection, with some symptoms presenting because of the body attacking itself. In this case, testing for attacking cells is not enough; you must also test for memory cells.
The same logic applies for B. miyamotoi infections. Lyme specialist labs Infectolab Americas and BCA-clinic (based in Augsburg, Germany) helped to develop a new ELISpot test, one that is much more proficient at detecting Lyme and its co-infections. This new ELISpot takes both attacking cells and memory cells into account. The specific cells that the test is focused on testing are called T-cells, the name given to our first line of defense against invading pathogens. They are a class of white blood cell; when the immune system senses an attack, it dispatches T-cells to the site of invasion via the bloodstream. Any unfamiliar cells they encounter there are destroyed.
The new ELISpot test focuses on white blood cells to determine the presence of Lyme disease or one of its co-infections.
As we’ve already discussed, there are two types of T-cells: attacking cells and memory cells. The ones dispatched initially are attacking cells. They identify foreign cells and communicate with B-cells, which produce and release antigens designed to eradicate the invaders. They produce a specific molecule called interferon gamma (IFN-gamma), which is essentially the method of communication they use to alert the rest of our body to the threat. Once the pathogen is retreating or fully eradicated, the memory T-cells are released. As you might have already guessed, their role is to “memorize” the enemy cells in an effort to help prevent another infection of the same species. They also “patrol” the site of infection before retreating to the lymph nodes, and produce a molecule called a cytokine called interleukin-2 (IL-2).
These two molecules, IFN-gamma and IL-2, are instrumental in the new ELISpot test. B. miyamotoi infections can easily be identified with this examination, and also pinned down to a specific stage. B. miyamotoi is a relatively new co-infection bacteria that doesn’t have many commercial, accurate tests associated with it. By utilizing the new ELISpot, doctors and specialists are able to get a clearer picture of the patient’s condition, when it comes to both Lyme and its multitude of co-infections.