Borreliosis (Lyme Disease) and its known involvement in Mental Health
by Denise Longman
Borreliosis (Lyme Disease) and its known involvement in Mental Health
Scientists and physicians across the world have discovered that the growing numbers of people with mental illness and diseases of the nervous system are being cured or improved by treatment with antibiotics. In other words, it is now known that bacteria can make you mentally ill as well as physically ill!
From Croatia to California, from Sweden to Sicily, conditions such as Schizophrenia and Multiple Sclerosis, even Alzheimer's disease and Stroke, are being found to have common to all one of the most insidiously infective bacteria on the planet, namely Borrelia.
This organism is similar to the bacterium that causes Syphilis, which was once the major cause of mental ill health before the days of penicillin. Both bacteria are large and spiral in shape, but Borrelia is turning out to be far worse than its cousin. Syphilis could be detected fairly easily and then killed with antibiotics, but Borrelia is harder to find, and then it is even more difficult to eradicate. Because it causes such a wide range of symptoms, from mild 'flu-like fever to a rapid onset of psychosis, or from strange rashes to sudden heart-block, this nasty bacterium has spread without most of us realising it, around the world, in what is now being called a pandemic.
Perhaps its most miserable victims are those with hallucinations, panic disorders, manic depressive illness and ADHD, as well as those with the labels of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis; for although the latter two conditions are recognised to be of a bacterial / viral cause by the World Health Organisation, the British medical establishment employees predominantly psychological intervention alone. Imagine being confined to a secure mental hospital, or treated with powerful antipsychotic drugs, or living for decades struggling to maintain normal memory and behaviour patterns, when all along there has been an infection secretly living in your brain and nerves. This bacterium may sometimes be the cause of anorexia, while in some of its victims it has been known to cause episodes of uncontrollable rage.
Other bacteria and viruses can wreak similar havoc: some of the ones that live harmlessly in our throats and on our skin are also able to invade our brains. Doctors and scientists are quite ready to acknowledge and search for things like HIV, Streptococcus and Herpes. But it is only recently that they are becoming aware that the Borrelia bug, one of the hardest to positively identify because of its so-called "stealth " behaviour, must be high on the list for diagnosis.
European countries such as Austria, Germany, Holland and France, have alerted their GPs and specialists to the growing problem of Borrelia. Germany has twice polled every doctor in the country to determine the probable infection rate, and has found that it has doubled in the last 10 years. The Dutch have carried out similar surveys. In Austria, every GP's waiting room has warning signs about Borreliosis. The disease is being spread by ticks that are carried on birds, on wild animals and on pets such as cats and dogs, even on horses. It has been found inside the stomachs of biting flies such as horse flies and cleggs and also in mosquitos and mites.
We present here several medical studies published in recent literature, which link mental illness and brain disease to known Borreliosis infection. There were few to be found that had been carried out in Britain; those quoted here are from the rest of Europe and the United States.
a) In a controlled study undertaken at Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, 20 children were examined following known infection of Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), and were found to have significantly more psychiatric and cognitive difficulties. Their cognitive abilities were found to be below that of 20 matched healthy control subjects, even taking into account any effects due to anxiety, depression and fatigue during education. The study also discussed the long-term effects of the children’s infection with Borrelia, which had brought about neuropsychiatric disturbances and caused significant psychosocial and academic impairment.
b) An elderly lady treated at the Emperor Franz Josef hospital, Vienna, was initially admitted with suspected Motor Neuron Disease. Testing of fluid from her spinal column indicated the presence of Bb. Following antibiotic treatment, improvement was seen in the patient’s clinical symptoms, and further testing of spinal fluid demonstrated a positive response to the antibiotic treatment. The preliminary diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was revised to one of chronic neuroborreliosis, the term given to infection of the central nervous system (CNS) by Bb.
c) A 64-year old woman was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Sophia Ziekenhuis at Zwolle, in Holland. She was suffering from psychosis, with visual hallucinations, disorientation in time and space, and associative thinking. Psychotropic drugs failed to produce any improvement in her condition and further, neurological, symptoms developed. A lumbar puncture revealed the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi and after treatment with penicillin all of her psychiatric and neurological symptoms were resolved. From the history, which the woman was then able to communicate, it appeared she had been bitten by ticks. Her husband, aged 66, passed through a similar episode of disease
d) In a comparative study carried out at the Prague Psychiatric Center, the blood of 926 psychiatric patients and that of 884 healthy control subjects was screened for four different types of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi. Of 499 matched pairs (meaning of similar age and gender but from patient and control group respectively) 166 (33%) of the psychiatric patients and 94 (19%) of the healthy comparison subjects were seropositive in at least one of the four test assays for Bb. This study supports the hypothesis that there is an association between an infection of Borrelia burgdorferi and psychiatric morbidity.
e) It has been well documented in numerous published medical studies of Borrelia’s ability to cause many recognized personality disorders and forms of depression; such as anxiety, depression, confusion, aggressive behaviour, mild to moderate cognitive deficits, fatigue, memory loss, and irritability. As such, the American Psychiatric Associations recommends that specialist doctors and councillors alike should seek to rule out Borreliosis as a possible differential diagnosis before commencing with any form of psychological intervention.
f) At the University of Rostock in Germany, a 42-year old female patient presented with schizophrenia-like symptoms but a complete lack of neurological signs. A brain scan and investigation of the spinal fluid led to the diagnosis of Lyme disease. There was complete relief of symptoms after antimicrobial therapy.
g) In a study of patients at a Boston, MA, hospital, scientists looked at patients with a history of Lyme disease who had been treated with short courses of antibiotics. As well as many physical symptoms, such as musculoskeletal impairment, the Lyme sufferers were found to have highly significant deficits in concentration and memory. Those who had received treatment early in the course of the illness had less long-term impairment.
h) At the Kanazawa University School of Medicine in Japan, a 36-year old woman with severe chronic Encephalomyelopathy was shown to have a very high level of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi. She showed severe cerebellar ataxia (walking and balance difficulties due to disease in the cerebellum) and profound mental deterioration. The disease had probably been acquired while she had been in the USA. The autopsy 4 years later showed the presence of spirochaetes throughout the brain and spinal cord, which together with the antibody evidence, demonstrated that the Lyme bacteria had caused this encephalitic form of neuroborreliosis.
i) Dr B. A. Fallon and his team at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York have done extensive studies on both adults and children with Lyme disease. They describe numerous psychiatric and neurological presentations of the disease, and show that it can mimic attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and multiple sclerosis. In another study, the same team found panic disorder and mania could be caused by Borrelial infection.
j) Scientists from Vancouver, Canada, and Lausanne, Switzerland, recently looked at post-mortem brain tissue samples from 14 patients who had had Alzheimer’s disease and compared them with 13 controls. All of the Alzheimer’s brains had infection with Borrelia-type organisms, compared to none of the controls. From 3 of the Alzheimer’s cases, they were able to carry out genetic and molecular analyses of these spirochaetes to prove beyond a doubt that they were Borrelia.
k) Following the detailed statistical analysis of all published literature on schizophrenia, (with the criterion that each study had to have detailed histories for at least 3000 patients), Swiss scientist Dr Mark Fritzsche was able to demonstrate that: "globally there is a striking correlation between seasonal and geographical clusters of both Multiple Sclerosis and Schizophrenia with the worldwide distribution of the Lyme bacteria." Yearly birth-excesses of such illnesses were found to mirror, with an intervening nine-month period, both the geographical and seasonal patterns of various types of Ixodes tick. He also went on to further state “In addition to known acute infections, no other disease exhibits equally marked epidemiological clusters by season and locality, nurturing the hope that prevention might ultimately be attainable.”
l) Chronic fatigue syndrome has been found to be associated with infection by Borrelia. A study by the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital of Saarland in Homburg, Germany, investigated blood samples from 1,156 healthy young males, without knowing which ones were suffering from CFS. They saw a significant number with CFS sufferers who had Borrelia antibodies even though there were no other signs of borreliosis symptoms. They state that antibiotic therapy should be considered in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome who show positive Borrelia serology.
m) Dr R. C. Bransfield in New Jersey, has found a significant number of Lyme patients exhibit aggression. Patients were described with decreased frustration tolerance, irritability, and some episodes of explosive anger which he terms “Lyme rage”. In relatively rare cases, there was uncontrollable rage, decreased empathy, suicidal tendencies, suicide, homicidal tendencies, interpersonal aggressiveness, homicide and predatory aggression.
The World Health Organisation has warned that mental illness appears to be increasing globally, and that depression will soon become the second biggest cause of disease on the planet. In Britain, it is estimated that new-onset psychoses have reached the annual level of 30 per 100,000 of the population. According to recent announcements, although there are at present about 900 consultant psychiatrists employed in the UK, with 400 posts vacant, there are plans to recruit 7,500 new psychiatrists in the next 5 years, a massive 5-fold increase.
The European Committee for Action on Lyme Borreliosis (EUCALB) has published epidemiological studies showing that there is a serious problem with tick-borne Borreliosis in Europe. For example, the UK’s nearest neighbour, Holland, has found 73 cases per 100,000 of the population per year, with an unknown number of missed diagnoses. The published figures for England, Ireland and Wales appear to be nearly 2 orders of magnitude lower than this, with only 0.3 cases per 100,000. Are cases of Lyme disease / Borreliosis not being found in Britain because it is still regarded as a rare disease in this country? Or do we genuinely have the lowest incidence in the world? Diagnosis of borreliosis is difficult, with tests for antibodies to the bacteria being the subject of great controversy at present. If a consultant has to look at a suspected case of the disease and believes it to be rare, and blood tests are unreliable, then the diagnosis will be biased, quite understandably, towards the patient having some other condition.
It is hoped that health professionals at all levels, and in all disciplines, will come to realise that Human Borreliosis is the fastest-growing, most prevalent zoonotic disease in the world, and has been called a modern pandemic by several authors, including epidemiologists, rheumatologists, neurologists and infectious disease experts. There seems to be little awareness in the UK at present about this situation, but we urge that it be recognised sooner rather than later, in the hope that both mental and physical illnesses due to Borrelia are successfully diagnosed and treated.
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