Is Post Viral Fatigue from Rapidly Spreading Lyme Disease to Blame?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


It is possible that rapidly spreading Lyme disease may be the cause of increased post viral fatigueAccording to the CDC, approximately 300,000 people in the United States contract Lyme disease and post viral fatigue every year. Considering how difficult Lyme and post viral fatigueis to diagnose, the number may be as high as ten times that number, according to Keith Clay, Indiana University biology professor.

Diagnoses of Lyme have been on the rise, not just in the US, but around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 35,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme in Europe, and another 3,500 in Asia every year. Lyme disease isn’t anything new, but why is it on the rise?

The short answer is it is becoming easier for the ticks that carry Lyme (the American blacklegged tick and the castor bean tick) to pass the disease. The longer answer is two-fold. First is a dramatic increase in the populations, both of humans and of other animals on which the ticks feed. The second part of the answer is climate change.

The sole diet of ticks consists of blood, on which they gorge themselves a couple of times during their lifecycle, which usually last about two years. A tick goes through three stages; larva, nymph, and adult, and they require a blood meal to go from one stage to the next. The females must gorge themselves a third time before she can lay eggs.

Ticks are not born carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, they pick it up from one host and pass it to the next. While deer are a favorite of ticks, they are often too large for the larval tick to latch onto. Research has found that white-footed mice are a more common culprit. In fact, white-footed mice give the bacteria to 75-95% of the ticks that feed on them, while only 1% of the ticks that feed on deer are infected.

It turns out that deforestation has destroyed many of the predators that feed on white-footed mice so their populations have exploded in recent decades.

Even the changes in our climate could be affecting the ticks that spread Lyme disease and post viral fatigue.The changing climate, in particular the warmer temperatures in autumn, have changed the feeding patterns of the ticks. When an infected tick feeds on an animal, it takes a few weeks for the bacteria to spread through the bloodstream before it can infect other ticks that feed on it. So the spread of the bacteria depends on when larval ticks feed. If the larval ticks and nymphs feed at the same time, they’re less likely to become infected than if the larval ticks feed much later than the nymphs.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure what determines the feeding cycles, but one theory has to do with weather. Ticks go dormant over the winter and in the spring, adult female ticks seek out a bloodmeal, often a deer, and lay eggs. The eggs hatch in midsummer and start looking for a bloodmeal. Typically, they don’t find one before cold weather sets in, so they go dormant until spring, when they try again. When this happens, they’re feeding early in the season, before the nymphs have infected new hosts, so the cycle of infection and post viral fatigue is broken.

In recent years, however, the weather stays warm later in the year, so that more of the larval ticks are able to feed (and become infected with Lyme) before spending the winter as nymphs. In the spring, then, they are able to infect new hosts well before the new ticks have hatched and begin to feed.

The best way to avoid getting Lyme disease is to not get bitten. However, removing a tick as soon as it is noticed is second best, as it takes time for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Animal studies have seen transit times within 16 hours, and a minimum transmission time has never been established, so earlier is better. Unfortunately, while it’s fairly easy to see and remove adult ticks, nymphs are much smaller, about the size of a poppy seed, and easy to overlook.

If you get bitten, or if you’ve been outdoors in an area known for ticks, be on the lookout for symptoms. Early symptoms are often a rash and flu-like symptoms, but can also include psychiatric, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms; be especially look out for tiredness similar to post infectious or post viral fatigue. Later symptoms include joint pain and neurological symptoms such as numbness, meningitis, Bell’s palsy and others. Symptoms may come and go or be very mild, so be sure to see your doctor, even if they disappear.

Dr Lam’s View on Post Viral Fatigue:

Although well intentioned, recovery plans using antibiotics can worsen post viral fatigueChronic Lyme Disease can trigger Adrenal Fatigue. Long term, the unrelenting toxin load secreted by the pathogen continues to attack the body well after the acute infectious process has subsided. The failure of long term support for the adrenals when thinking that the body is “cured” once the titer has subsided is a common clinical mistake. Lyme disease can enter a subclinical state of symbiotic relationship with the body for decades, with the Lyme disease bacteria infecting organs far removed from the original bite site. Unfortunately, toxins secreted by such stealth infection over time can wear the adrenal glands down. Those who are aggressively detoxifying or taking antibiotics each time there is a recurrence are particularly at risk. Well intentioned treatments, especially when unaccompanied by concurrent adrenal support, often leads to collateral damage that can trigger adrenal crashes and render the sufferer bedridden. The lesson is clear: if you have Lyme Disease, a comprehensive long term recovery plan for post viral fatigue well beyond the acute phase is critical to prevent the problem becoming chronic. Chronic Lyme Disease sufferers must accept that it is a losing battle to try to eradicate the pathogen. Learning to live wisely with the enemy while supporting the adrenal and immune systems is key to long term well being.


© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


It is possible that rapidly spreading Lyme disease may be the cause of increased post viral fatigue