A 38-year-old male sought my attention this week because of strange neurological symptoms in the aftermath of a tick bite. He lives in a small town around Richmond VA. He has had a lot of tick bites over a period of years, ticks of various sizes. He and his family love to hike, camp and generally spend a lot of time in wooded area. In the early Spring of 2015 he found a tick on his calf which he removed. Within days, he developed a red expanding rash on his upper thigh. The rash encompassed the entire anterior portion of the upper thigh. He never developed a bull’s eye rash. The rash was consistently red. The lymph nodes in the groin become swollen and slightly tender. Within days of the tick bite, he developed an array of symptoms: fast heartbeat, anxiety, headache, tingling sensations, poor concentration and others. He went to the ER at the local hospital. He was diagnosed with panic attack and cellulitis (infection of tissues under the skin). Lyme disease was dismissed as a possible explanation. Nonetheless, he was prescribed a week of doxycycline for the cellulitis. He did not improve. He experienced progressive symptoms: neck pain, back pain, muscle twitches, strange vibrations, electrical shooting pains, tingling sensations, zapping sensations. He had a strange feeling of heaviness. He eyes become very sensitive to light. He developed tinnitus (ringing) in both ears and he became very sensitive to loud sounds. He noticed poor endurance and fatigue. It became hard to fall asleep. His cognition felt foggy. Memory was not as good. He had episodes of spacing out and concentration and focus has been a problem.
He went to his family doctor after a couple of months of misery. He was quickly evaluated. A few blood tests were done. The patient was invited back to the doctor’s office after several days and told he had a post-viral syndrome because EBV (Epstein Barr Virus) titers were high. Lyme antibodies were negative. The doctor recommended he wait it out. Things would improve. They didn’t.
In July 2015 he talked his doctor into ordering a whole set of tickborne disease tests at IgeneX. He was told the results were negative. He found a local holistic doctor who prescribed a month of 2 antibiotics and natural therapies. He felt worse. Two doctors now had reviewed the IgeneX reports and read them as negative.
It is only now that he seeks my help.
At this point the reader might be thinking the Western Blot results were somehow positive. This would be incorrect. Two doctors had not looked very carefully at the report. The PCR test for Lyme DNA was positive. IgeneX notes that the test is not specific for Borrelia burdorferi but may also pick other forms of Lyme, including B. andersonii, a contender for STARI.
News Flash. As I have been saying, there are other, mostly unknown species of Lyme. Just this week it was announced: new Lyme organisms discovered by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, modestly named, B. mayonii.
I believe this patient is infected with a variant Lyme strain. Therefore, the minimal reactivity on the Western Blot test would be expected. The positive PCR was a stroke of luck. Likely vector: lone star tick; likely pathogen alternative form of borrelia, not B burdorferi.
The diagnosis for this patient could be called Lyme disease. Borreliosis is a better term as it announces the fact that essentially the same illness can be caused by other Borrelia species.
By the way: Check out Fitzpatrick’s color atlas of dermatology. All of the images of EM rash are red patches, just like the patient had. None are bull’s eye.