Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Lyme and the plague

A perfect storm.  It was a perfect storm which led to the spread of the bubonic plague endemic which hit Europe in waves over more than 5 centuries.  The plague is a vector borne zoonotic disease and, in this way, similar to Lyme disease. The reservoir for the disease is rats who travelled in the bowels of trading ships making new homes in heavily populated port cities and other population centers. The vector was not a tick but rather an unsuspected rat flea which carried the deadly bacteria, Y. pestis.  The infection led to gruesome deaths killing half the population of Europe and decimating much of Asia, killing a third of the global population. Plague doctors suspected the disease was carried by a miasma, bad air, perhaps carried by birds. They donned scary beaked costumes and bled patients to rectify an imbalance of the 4 bodily humours. Some of their patients lived; the mortality rate was somewhere between 40-90%. When patients recovered, they claimed success. It was a perfect storm because populations became increasingly concentrated in cities like London, trade was active amongst Europe and Asia and the rat hitchhikers found wonderful new homes with food and shelter and because at the height of the plague, around 1360, the germ theory of disease would not be discovered for another 500 years. 
Today, Lyme, and some consider a silent plague has much in common with the black death.  Lyme disables rather kill and the subtle manifestations, or not so subtle if you look carefully, go unseen by the Medical community, writ large.  In this case birds really do transmit the disease increasing tick habitat over years and decades.  Rather than staying close in cities where one can walk everywhere, the car led to populations spreading out, suburbs abutting wooded areas and habitat for animals including Lyme requisite mice and deer.  Deer became increasingly plentiful. Predators, like mountain lions were scarce.   Mice thrive because potential predators: fox, raptors, owls and others moved away as well.  Deer, mice and ticks increased dramatically in number.  Over time, tickborne pathogens flourished and more and more ticks became infected, now most ticks (deer ticks and lone star ticks), with Lyme and other nasties. 
Betty was reading a book, enjoying a glorious late spring day, lounging in her chair next to the garden she planted in her back yard, a yard shared with so many beautiful white tail deer. Her husband Bob, sweating in the sun, smiled at her, enjoying the task of clearing brush in the wild back of the property. 
Betty developed fatigue, malaise, diffuse muscle pains, night sweats, brain fog, depression and irritability.  She visited her GP who even did a Lyme test (just to be thorough) and diagnosed depression, sending her off with a bottle of Prozac. 
Bob developed strange rashes, headaches and numbness and tingling in his feet.  His doctor suspected neuropathy and this was confirmed by an EMG.  His blood sugar has been borderline and his father has diabetes. He was sent home with a diagnosis of diabetic neuropathy and a bottle of Neurontin, gabapentin. 
The idea was developed by Pasteur in the 1850s and further worked out by Koch in the 1860s-1870s. The germ theory was born. Poor Semmelweis, an Austrian obstetrician in the 1840s went mad asking only that colleagues wash their hands, to prevent so many childbed fevers and deaths of newborns and their mothers, but no one listened. 
Penicillin, the wonder drug of the 20th century was discovered in 1929 and mass produced in the middle of the second world war. 
Medical knowledge and science have exploded exponentially. The entire human genome has been sequenced.  HIV/AIDS has been conquered.  People no longer die from small pox, syphilis, tuberculosis or the plague.
So why I ask, do the modern-day doctors caring for these two souls afflicted with disabling if not deadly illness, treat them with the same level of knowledge, expertise and self-confidence as bird costumed plague doctors of 1360 bleeding patients to correct bodily humours?  Of course, we know.  But nothing can justify the horrific sentence of misery imposed on these unknowing and trusting patients.  Before long, Betty will have lost her mind, become confused and suicidal and admitted to a psychiatric hospital for electroconvulsive shock therapy.  Bob will have become progressively weaker confined to a wheelchair with the diagnosis of autoimmune CIDP, crying every night, trying to comprehend what has happened to his beautiful, wonderful wife.  

It feels like Semmelweis all over again. 

Note: case presentations fictional. 

1 comment:

lymie said...

It is said that the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history. That is true of some people and not of others though. But it seems the non-learners get into positions of authority and care less about humanity. Their goal only seems to be holding on to power and maintaining the status quo, however harmful it is to great numbers of people.

What else can explain the history of lyme disease?