Most medical methods require a simplified definition of a disease and its symptoms, so researchers can create vaccines and draft easily-followed treatment guidelines. Lyme doesn’t play fair that way, and some researchers find that hard to accept…so the coinfection reality has been a real blow to them.
Nonetheless, most of the doctors working with LD now accept that other diseases often enter the bloodstream along with Lyme, deriving from the very same vector. They may not like it, because it makes their jobs even harder, but to ignore this reality is foolish.
Leaving aside all the other possible vectors of LD, common tick-borne coinfectuous diseases include babesiosis (probably the most common LD coinfection, and one of the first recognized), bartonellosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Q fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and more.
Most of these coinfections are bacterial, though those bacteria tend to be rod- or sphere-shaped, rather than corkscrew-shaped like the Borrelia spirochetes that cause Lyme. Confections can also be protozoan or rickettsial — that is, caused by types of microscopic parasites that aren’t bacterial in nature.
A Huge Problem
Don’t assume that Lyme coinfection is a problem only in America. It’s common anywhere in the world where LD is a problem, especially in Europe, and physicians there tend to recognized it more readily.
In the U.S., Lyme-literate doctors are starting to recommend that in addition to LD, patients have themselves tested for babesiosis and ehrlichiosis at the very least; along with LD, these diseases form the so-called “Tick Triad.” Bartonellosis is another disease of significant concern.
A protozoan causes babesiosis, while bacteria cause bartonellosis and ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis occurs in two distinct varieties. And, of course, LD occurs in a wide variety of strains — several of which can apparently occur at once in the same patient, as some doctors are just beginning to realize.
How Bad Is It?
Researchers have discovered that coinfection rates for Lyme and its companion diseases can be quite high in ticks. On average, as many as 26% of ticks infected with Borrelia may also be infected with Babesia protozoans. The Lyme/ehrlichiosis coinfection rate runs slightly less, at about 25%.
Rates are similar for bartonellosis and other common tick-borne diseases. But remember, these are averages; in some areas, the coinfection numbers can run much lower or much higher — as high as 80%.
Here’s the kicker: in some cases, ticks can carry more than two coinfections; three are common, hence the Tick Triad concept. If an infected tick bites you, you may end up with everything it’s carrying, not just LD.
There’s a possibility that other critters beside ticks may carry LD and its coinfections. Recent evidence suggests that biting flies and mosquitoes are good candidates… despite the fact that many researchers are finding it hard to accept that possibility.
Of course, they found it hard to accept the possibility of coinfections in the first place. That’s understandable: coinfections complicate treatment immensely, since medications that might work for one microbe might not work for the other, and multiple medications can conflict and cause dangerous interactions.
That said, the growing acceptance of Lyme disease coinfections in the medical field is a brightening light in the darkness — because like so many other recent breakthroughs in our understanding of Lyme, it offers tremendous hope for future treatment.