What Does Lyme Disease Do To Your Body?

What Does Lyme Disease Do To Your Body?

January 16, 2020 100 By Jose Scott


When you think about Lyme disease you probably
think of this, a tick. Or maybe more specifically, a tick bite. Which is not wrong, you should. But what exactly is it about a tick bite that
makes us sick? This is Borrelia burgdorferi, one of many
bacteria that ticks can pass onto humans and the one responsible for Lyme disease. It causes an array of symptoms, which can
be anything from fatigue, arthritis, facial palsy and occasionally a bulls-eye rash. (Erythema
migrans, if you want to get technical). We’ve only known about the pathogen since
the early 1980’s, but it’s been around for much longer than that…potentially for
thousands of years longer. Traces of its effects were even found in Otzi
the Iceman, the 5,300-year old hunter found mummified in the Italian Alps. But while we’re not sure exactly where and
when Borrelia originated, we do know a lot about how the disease works and how it’s
spread. My name is Raphael Stricker. I’m a medical doctor. I practice in San Francisco. I have more than 4000 Lyme disease patients in my
practice. And I’ve written more than 200 papers about Lyme disease. Ticks have been called sewers of infection. Anything that they feed on they can pick up
and transmit to you. These “sewers of infection” need blood
to survive. Sometimes that’s bird blood, sometimes that’s
reptile blood, but a lot of the time its mammal blood, like mice and deer. If a tick feeds on one of those animals and
they are infected with the bacteria, the tick will carry it and then spread it to other
animals, who then spread it to other ticks, and so on. Occasionally, those ticks spread the disease
to us, and they do that by passing the pathogen through the tick’s saliva, which some people
call a pretty fascinating substance. Tick saliva is really a pretty fascinating
substance. It has several components. One is it has an anesthetic that numbs the
bite site so that the person doesn’t know that he or she is being infected. It also has an anticoagulant that keeps the
blood from clotting so that the tick can feed continuously at that site. And then it also
has this immunosuppressive substance that suppresses the immune response at the bite
site so that the host can’t fight off the infection. And it’s been shown that a tick bite can inject
about 70,000 bacteria with the lyme bacteria, so you’re getting a pretty hefty dose of this spirochete, it’s called a spirochete, with a tick bite. So, what does Borrelia burgdorferi actually
do to your body? Technically….nothing. The bacteria itself doesn’t harm your cells,
but your body knows the pathogen shouldn’t be there, so it launches an all-out assault. Your immune system will first try to fight
off disease by targeting proteins on the bacteria’s cell walls, but the spirochete can just change
which proteins it expresses and evade detection. So, so much for that idea. Then, as the pathogen moves through your bloodstream
to other parts of your body, your immune system continues to fight it by producing cytokines,
which work to regulate your immune system and produce inflammation.This inflammation
then occurs in the areas that the bacteria travels to, which, depending on the strain
of Borrelia, can occur in the joints, muscles, heart and even the brain. But due to the bacteria’s ability to evade
detection, this inflammation does nothing to destroy it and everything to make you feel
sick. So that’s what really causes the symptoms. It’s not the bacteria per say it’s the body’s
response to the bacteria that causes a lot of these symptoms. Basically, Borrelia burgdorferi isn’t doing
much of anything other than trying to survive in its host. Well my medical school teacher told me not
to anthropomorphize you know bacteria, basically I mean the goal is to survive. The goal of any bacteria or any organism is
to survive. So Borelia has evolved a way to do that that’s very efficient. Of course, we’re doing whatever we can to make sure the disease can’t survive. Currently lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. And while a vaccine was created around 16
years ago, it’s no longer being produced due to low usage and potential side effects. But there is interest in developing a new
vaccine in two different ways. One idea is to target the proteins expressed
by the Borrelia itself, which fights lyme disease, while the other idea would involve
fighting the compounds in tick saliva, which would fight lyme as well as a number of tickborne
diseases. Because ticks are, after all, Sewers of infection. So, if ticks, mice, deer and any other number
of animals can be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, why don’t they also get Lyme disease? So deer have a kind of protein in their blood
that kills the Lyme bacteria. And the question always comes up well why
don’t why can’t we put that into humans? And the answer is because humans aren’t deer. So there you go, humans aren’t deer.