New Lab Testing and Awareness to Attack Lyme in California

A new Borrelia Culture and awareness may increase Lyme Disease literacy in California just in time.

“I’m testing three patients for it right now,” says Dr. Todd Maderis, a leading naturopath running the Marin Natural Medicine Clinic in a county with the highest number of Lyme disease outbreaks in California. He has just returned from a national conference in San Diego on educating medical experts about the early recognition of Lyme disease cases which are too often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as having other ailments.

“Lyme has similar symptoms as chronic fatigue, depression, fibromyalgia, MS and ALS, and unless you run a complete lab panel on the bacteria, you won’t be able to see all of the stains and diagnose the disease properly,” explains Maderis, adding that Advance Lab in Pennsylvania has just released a new Borrelia Blood Culture for clinical use in 49 states which will advance better detection. While not available yet in New York, applications have been filed and are pending.

While the western blot has been the preferred serologic test, researchers have found no single blood test is reliable enough to be used alone and physicians are now urged to evaluate all of the markers to be certain of the diagnosis. Lyme combined with co-infections is known as “the great imitator” and about half of the people diagnosed remember having a tick bite.

Maderis says most holistic practitioners have been careful about testing all strains, but this isn’t true of all doctors. “The gold standard is routinely running a complete line panel through IGeneX, inc. Lab in Palo Alto, California which looks at all strains of the Borrelia bacteria plus co-infections, but your local general practitioner down the street won’t know about it.”

That’s a big problem for victims. Thanks to global warming and more cases finally being reported, Lyme disease is the fastest-growing infections disease in the country, doubling since 1991 to over 200,000 cases per year, making it greater than AIDS and the West Nile virus combined. As a result, California health care professionals are boning up on how to better diagnose what can be a debilitating and deadly infection.

While the state doesn’t keep records on outbreaks, Marin has proven fertile ground for the deer tick that carries the illness and many who suffer from the effects such as chills, headaches, brain lesions and brain fog, weakness, joint swelling and paralysis can be in grave danger if left untreated.

One such victim was Bay Area author Amy Tan, who ended up temporarily in a wheelchair since none of doctors considered she might have Lyme when she complained for years about the symptoms. Tan spoke of her experience in the documentary, Under our Skin, directed by Marin filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson of Open Eye Pictures.

“Amy’s story is sadly typical,” said Wilson. “It’s a twofold failure of the medical community: they don’t know the best ways to test for Lyme, and even when they conclude it is Lyme, they can’t agree on how to treat it. ” Compounding that failure is a refusal of insurance companies to pay for treatment since it can result in a long-term illness. Wilson’s own sister was a victim and he suspects many of his neighbors have had the disease, too, since the region is a deer tick hotbed.

Both the film and new books such as Out of the Woods by Katina Makris, a Lyme survivor, strongly emphasize that awareness is key on the part of both health care experts and the public in avoiding, diagnosing and treating the illness in its earliest stages.

In terms of treatment guidelines, Maderis and other Lyme literate doctors look to the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) which offers an exhaustive list of symptoms to check off in patients. Among the weaponry is a combination of antibiotics while sorting out co-infections that often exist and complicate healing. Also administered are nutritional supplements and a yeast-controlled diet. All of these of course must be continually monitored by a health professional.

In the meantime, the public must focus on avoidance. That’s why May is Lyme disease awareness month, aptly timed since spring and summer are the at-risk seasons, and residents are being warned they don’t need to venture deeply into the woods to be exposed. One researcher at a California park found many nymphal ticks lurking under a wooden picnic table.

“Nymphal ticks, the immature ones, can be hard to spot because they are as small as poppy seeds,” explains Phyllis Mervine, president of the California Lyme Disease Association, which maintains an educational website. “They are often in leaf litter or at the base of trees. Adult ticks are often found on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Both immature and adult ticks can transmit the illness.”

She says small children are most vulnerable to the devastating effects of the disease because they are low to the ground and also might pull a tick off of their body without telling anyone. “Parents need to educate themselves about ticks and check their children carefully whenever they’ve been outdoors,” she warns, adding all people should check themselves after spending time outdoors.

“If you do find a tick, remove it and place it in a Ziploc bag with a moist cotton ball and send it to IGeneX for a diagnosis,” Maderis recommends.

In recent weeks, researchers speculated that the direct and indirect effects of global warming will probably increase the incidence of Lyme disease, as well as intensifying the prevalence of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS and creating a more mosquito-friendly habitat which will up infection rates.

“One possible way in which temperature may limit tick populations is by increasing the length of their cycle from two to thee years in the north, where it is colder,” explained Maria Diuk-Wasser, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. “Climate change could be reverting that and therefore increasing production of ticks.”

While understanding climate control is extremely complex, battling Lyme doesn’t have to be as perplexing given the diagnostic tools now available to the medical community. But are western practitioners biting? “The gold standard way to test is not on the radar of most doctors,” argue Maderis, “But most holistics are already Lyme literate and using it and able to treat patients early for the disease.”

Images: San Diego Lymer; Lyme Disease.Org; Medicalpicturesinfo



Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.