Alarming news is emerging about a newly discovered bacterium, Borrelia miyamotoi, which causes similar symptoms to Lyme disease but is more resistant to antibiotics than the more common strain, making this yet unnamed disease a particularly worrisome human health hazard.
What is the Borrelia miyamotoi infection, the distant relation to Lyme disease https://t.co/g0yXmPYKKP
— Clark Boles (@QHSEman1) October 25, 2015
The bacterium is known to be most concentrated in New England, New York, and the UK but exists throughout other wooded areas worldwide. The symptoms begin with flu-like symptoms, which means that many who become infected will not know they have what can become a debilitating (and even deadly) disease if left untreated.
The Lyme disease mimicry of the bacterium means that those infected will, at first, experience fever, nausea, and muscle pain. However, the identification of this new disease, while exhibiting the same symptoms of Lyme disease at the beginning, does not exhibit the typical rash associated with Lyme disease and is therefore difficult to diagnose. It also has a resistance to antibiotics, making its treatment more difficult.
It is believed that there are several bacteria that cause what has been to now considered Lyme disease. Dr. Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, explains.
“A lot of these things we’re calling Lyme disease are caused by more than one bug. The fact is there are probably more of these organisms out there. This one [Borrelia miyamotoi] may be a little nastier.”
In patients with compromised immune systems, rarer symptoms are more likely. Recurring fever, confusion, and dementia-like symptoms can emerge after a bite by a tick carrying the Borrelia miyamotoi bacterium.
There have been 18 people in southern New England and New York with their cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2015.
For example, a cancer survivor recounts in the journal how she lost 30 pounds and feared her lymphoma had returned as a result of the infection.
The risk of infection is highest in people who spend time outdoors, particularly in wooded areas. Advice for those who plan to go outdoors is to use bug repellents that contain at least 20 percent DEET. Pets can also harbor the ticks which carry the bacteria and can therefore pass it on to their human owners.
First reported in the U.S. in 2013 in Northeastern United States, Borrelia miyamotol disease (BMD) could be anywhere where deer tick-transmitted infections are endemic.
Ninety-seven patients were found to have the antibiotic resistant strain in their blood.
Of those who contracted the infection, 50 percent presented with sepsis and 24 percent required hospitalization. Headaches in patients were considered severe in their pain level, and up to five patients required spinal taps.
Not only is this particular strain of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, only 16 percent of patients infected had a detectable immune response, meaning the natural defenses of the body are largely inadequate to fight it off.
Pregnant and fever and thrombocytopenia, in coastal Mass – Borrelia miyamotoi #idweek2015 pic.twitter.com/uf8eTOD4op
— Philip Lederer (@philiplederer) October 9, 2015
The disease is spreading. Reported in the Independent as “the new Lyme disease.”
“Scientists reported that 40 out of 945 I. ricinus ticks from seven regions in southern England tested positive for the bacteria for the first time.”
Areas reported in the UK where the ticks carrying the bacterium are most likely are Exmoor, the New Forest and other rural areas of Hampshire, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, parts of Surrey and West Sussex, Thetford Forest in Norfolk, the Lake District, the North York Moors, and the Scottish Highlands.
There is not yet enough information about Borrelia miyamotoi to form a definite prognosis and judgment as to the susceptibility to the antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease, particularly doxycycline.
The Standard Daily reports that the newly discovered disease has symptoms worse than its Lyme disease cousin. Those who are infected could experience symptoms as mild as headaches to more serious long-term consequences. The progression of the disease consists of three stages.
- Stage 1: Rash. Whilst a rash is common in Lyme disease, Borrelia miyamotoi will not present the common “bullseye rash” used to diagnose Lyme disease.
- Stage 2: Flu-like symptoms. If left untreated in this stage, the disease is likely to progress to stage 3.
- Stage 3: Arthritis and neurological disorders. Patients can expect to experience pain normally associated with recurrent arthritis, most usually reported in the knees. Up to 10 to 20 percent of people in Stage 3 will experience chronic arthritis. The nervous system is also affected, with a stiff neck, severe headaches — possibly as a sign of meningitis — and even temporary paralysis of muscles in the face (Bell’s palsy) to be expected. In addition, there can be pain and/or weakness in the limbs and poor muscle and motor control.
Avoiding wooded areas entirely is the best defense, but for those who must go outdoors, prevention is key and that means liberal use of bug repellent. Anyone concerned they might have contracted the illness should see their GP.
[Image by Stringer / Getty Images]