The Lyme disease spirochete

The Lyme disease spirochete

The bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) and its many qualities are the reason LD is so hard to diagnose and treat.

The bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) and its many qualities are the reason LD is so hard to diagnose and treat.

by Dr. Paul Stallone — 

Lyme disease (LD) can be mistaken for more than 300 other conditions. Imagine how this could impact a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. For a patient with the disease, the long road to recovery often consists of numerous tests, never-ending specialists and medications that offer little or no help. The CDC estimates that more than 300,000 new cases of this life-altering illness are diagnosed each year.

While the disease has probably been around for decades, it was not officially recognized until the mid 1970s. A town in Connecticut had an unusually high number of young children with debilitating symptoms. The new disease was named after the town Lyme, and the organism responsible was named after Dr. Willy Burgdorfer who identified it in 1981.

The bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) and its many qualities are the reason LD is so hard to diagnose and treat. The bacteria itself is a spirochete, which refers to its spiral shape. This unique shape allows the bacteria to manipulate cells into providing protection from the immune system or anti-bacterial treatments.

The spirochete can hide within all cells in the body, including tendons, ligaments, muscle, brain and even heart cells. The bacteria can form cysts to create their very own barricade. If allowed to mature, cysts can travel throughout the body, releasing more spirochetes wherever the cyst stops. Painful, permanent damage can be caused by this defense mechanism.

If spirochetes tunnel into joints, the nearby tissue can become inflamed. If left untreated, chronic inflammation may lead to severe joint complications. Other tissues that become damaged may become life threatening when areas like the brain and heart are affected. Spirochetes are pleomorphic, which is the ability to change shape. This makes it even harder for the immune system to identify them.

Spirochetes have another defense mechanism to ensure their survival; they can form a thick protective coat around themselves, known as a biofilm. This biofilm is an almost impermeable substance and can protect the bacteria from the immune system and high levels of antibiotics. Some experts agree that biofilms contain heavy metals. Addressing this aspect of biofilms with specific treatments can allow destruction of this slimy wall.

Testing for LD can be complicated, especially for a novice. One of the reasons it is difficult is the presence of biofilms. Typically, when the immune system attacks invading bacteria, antibodies are produced to protect against future invasions. Many LD tests look for antibodies, not the actual bacteria. When the spirochete is protected and hidden by the biofilm, the immune system does not have the opportunity to produce antibodies. So even if a physician tests for LD, the results could be negative.

Testing is also complicated because of the presence of co-infections. Unfortunately, the tick that infected thousands with LD can also carry many other disease-causing bacteria. Treatment is not always broad-spectrum, meaning that the other possible co-infections may not respond to treatments for B. burgdorferi.

Since its discovery, LD has been reported in every state, except Hawaii. Research has shown that the spirochete can be detected in all bodily fluid and can be transmitted from mother to child. With the many possible types of exposures, someone who has never been bitten by a deer tick could still be infected.

Anyone with unexplained, lingering symptoms like joint pain, muscle spasms, chronic fatigue, body aches, persistent fever, and neurological problems should seek proper testing and diagnosis to ensure an appropriate treatment plan can be implemented. The wrong treatment could allow LD to thrive.


Paul Stallone, N.M.D., founded the Arizona Integrative Medical Center, located in Scottsdale, Ariz. He combines natural, alternative and conventional treatments to best fit each patient’s needs. or 480-214-3922.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 4, August/September 2015.

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