This 20 year old female has spent her life in particular town in outer suburbia where everyone sees to have Lyme disease. Over a period of many years, with many symptoms, she has asked for Lyme tests - which have always been negative, until now, September, 2013. The Lyme EIA titer was positive at 1.36 and 2/3 IgM bands were positive. Her doctors prescribed 21 days of doxycycline which has offered no help. She came to my office with her father and her boyfriend asking for my help.
Seven years ago a 14 year old boy was brought into my office. He had a distant, far off gaze. This former sports star and honor's student could no longer participate in sports and his grades went from straight As to Ds. This is a case I'll never forget.
He had a quiet, almost eerie "zombie-like" affect. His eyes were blank and vacant. Early on I decided he had profound Lyme encephalopathy and aggressive therapy was called for. I started him on IV Rocephin. One, then two months later, he returned for follow-up care, unchanged. I remember feeling nervous about the case. In the third month I added IV Zithromax. He returned a month later: no change. With butterflies in my stomach I added Flagyl. He returned to the office a month later, month 5 of intravenous treatment. I was amazed. A switched had been flipped: he was back. His eyes were bright and clear. This case left an indelible imprint on my psyche. But after the PICC line was removed I never saw him back. We doctors say he was "lost to follow-up."
My new patient's 21 year old boyfriend said: "Hey doctor do you remember me." It took me a minute, but then I recognized him, my 14 year old now grown up. The bright eyes were still there; he had now referred his girlfriend to me.
His girlfriend is very ill. She limped into my office with a cane. She was suffering with severe daily headaches. A neurologist had prescribed Topomax which seemed to make things worse. Of critical concern at the moment: she had lost 30 percent of her peripheral vision in both eyes over the last three months and the neurologist and eye specialist could not figure out why.
She had been sick for a long time, years. She had a plethora of symptoms. Some of the highlights include: severe fatigue, numbness, weakness, shooting pains, a diffuse chronic pain syndrome, night sweats, shortness of breath, air hunger, back, neck and joint pains, loss of coordination, dropping things, loss of balance, confusion, memory loss, global cognitive dysfunction. Psychiatric symptoms including anger, rage, irritability, visual and auditory hallucinations. She also complains of sudden episodes of paralysis of her face and extremities.
Her neurological examination showed evidence of severe neuropathy and also a loss of proprioception. When I manipulated her big toes she could not tell if the toes were pointed up or down. This is an unusual finding only seen in cases of complex neuropathy.
Another word about her headaches. The pain was throbbing or band-like, behind an eye or across her entire head. The headaches typically occur twice daily lasting 4-6 hours rendering her non-functional. She had dropped out of college and also quit her part-time job. Daily headaches were fairly new over the previous 3 months.
Laboratory tests were remarkable for a positive antibody against B. duncani. Here are some images of her blood smear Giemsa stains. The slides show ample evidence of active Babesia infection. In the third slide below a small bacteria can be seen at the periphery of a red blood cell. This is characteristic of a Bartonella-like organism.
Chronic daily headache syndrome is a relatively new entity on the scene. At least some is due to tick borne disease. It is frequently written that Bartonella causes "ice pick" headaches behind an eye and that Babesia causes posterior headaches with muscle pain. Lyme can cause headaches as well. I think it is usually not possible to tease out the exact cause of headaches in persons suffering with tick borne disease.
My approach to this patient is to treat Babesia but also start intravenous antibiotics. I think Bartonella will need to be addressed at a later point.
PS: The boyfriend doesn't remember a lot about the time he had severe Lyme disease. He does recall walking in and out of rooms not knowing why.