Lyme bacteria survive 28-day course of antibiotics months after infection
They seem to support claims of lingering symptoms reported by many patients who have already received antibiotic treatment for the disease.
Based on a single, extensive study of Lyme disease designed by Tulane University researchers, the study employed multiple methods to evaluate the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, before and after antibiotic treatment in primates.
The study also measured the antibody immune response to the bacteria both pre- and post- treatment, as this is how current diagnostics typically evaluate Lyme disease in humans.
The data show that living B. burgdorferi spirochetes were found in ticks that fed upon the primates and in multiple organs after treatment with 28 days of oral doxycycline.
The results also indicated that the immune response to the bacteria varied widely in both treated and untreated subjects.
"It is apparent from these data that B. burgdorferi bacteria, which have had time to adapt to their host, have the ability to escape immune recognition,tolerate the antibiotic doxycycline and invade vital organs such as the brain and heart," said lead author Monica Embers, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine.
"In this study, we were able to observe the existence of microscopic disease and low numbers of bacteria, which would be difficult to 'see' in humans but could possibly be the cause of the variable and nonspecific symptoms that are characteristic of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
"Although current antibiotic regimens may cure most patients who are treated early, if the infection is allowed to progress, the 28-day treatment may be insufficient, based on these findings," Embers said.
The findings also demonstrated:
- All subjects treated with antibiotics were found to have some level of infection 7 - 12 months post treatment.
- Despite testing negative by antibody tests for Lyme disease, two of 10 subjects were still infected with Lyme bacteria in heart and bladder.
- Lyme bacteria which persist are still viable. ■