‘Great Imitator’ Disease

Lyme can lurk for years, misdiagnosed

Sick woman

Sick woman

Sudden headache, fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, neck stiffness or swollen lymph nodes may be well taken for flue or some other “under the weather” symptom. Unfortunately, diagnosis of Lyme disease is often delayed because the organism causes symptoms that mimic those of other illnesses such as arthritis, flu, lupus, chronic fatigue and depression.

In truth, you may have just been attacked by the blacklegged tick, a carrier of the bacterial spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), an evasive organism researchers say is the cause of the escalating incidence of Lyme disease throughout the US, especially in the Northeastern states.

Lyme disease is the fastest growing insect-borne sickness in the USA, writes Chad Haney of Ohio State University in BMJ Case Reports.

Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by state health departments and the District of Columbia. However, studies in Connecticut and Maryland find 7–12 unreported cases for every reported case of Lyme disease, Haney wrote. “The implications of this are significant and could mean that the true number of annual cases of Lyme disease may be as high as 200,000…”


95% of all confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2015 stemmed from just 14 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Here are the worst states:
• Maryland: 21.2 cases per 100,000 residents.
• West Virginia: 16.2 per 100,000 residents.
• New York: 13.3 per 100,000 residents.
• Virginia: 11.6 per 100,000 residents.

The Bb organism has been noted to be “an evasive organism, which can penetrate virtually any organ or system in the body, including the brain and central nervous system, joints, muscles and heart,” says David Cameron, MD, a former president of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) and author of Lyme Disease Takes on Medicine. “Lyme disease symptoms may be similar to other medical conditions, making diagnosing a challenge,” he says. For this reason, Lyme disease has “been coined ‘the great imitator.’”

For those who live in the leading 14 states, seeing a Lyme disease-educated physician right away is important. But don't be lulled if you live elsewhere. Lyme disease cases have been reported in all 50 states. The National Institutes of Health has funded several studies on the treatment of Lyme disease that show most people rapidly recover when treated with antibiotics within a few weeks of onset. Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime axetil.

Read Part 2

ReferenceChad Haney and Milap C Nahata Unique expression of chronic Lyme disease and Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction to doxycycline therapy in a young adult BMJ Case Rep. 2016; 2016: bcr2013009433. Published online 2016 Jul 20. doi: [10.1136/bcr-2013-009433] PMCID: PMC4964162 PMID: 27440843
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