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Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Its true: Antabuse/disulfiram is the most exciting new therapy for Lyme since daptomycin.

We are getting a lot more experience with disulfiram/Antabuse.  In some cases, it seems to be very effective.  I don’t think it is clear which microbes it is active against. It is an old drug repurposed as an antibiotic.  Its antimicrobial spectrum may remain unknown for the foreseeable future (there is no money researching it).  One thing worse than dreaded MRSA is VRSA – vancomycin resistant Staph aureus.  In vitro it was shown that the addition of disulfiram to vancomycin conferred the ability to kill this dreaded superbug. This should be catching some eyes, even outside the Lyme world.

Disulfiram clearly has potent antibiotic effects. It also has side effects. Twenty five percent of users have some rise in liver function tests –markers of liver inflammation. The rise is usually modest, and therapy can continue if AST/ALT numbers don’t exceed 2-3 twice the normal limit, with close monitoring. Three times makes me nervous. My comfort zone limits closer to 2.  Waiting for numbers to normalize and restarting with a lower dose may work. Severe liver disease may occur 1-2% of the time, not a trivial number.


You should never treat yourself. The man who has himself as his doctor has a fool for a patient.

Side effects may include, dizziness, brain fog, fatigue, GI intolerance and others – in my patients. Many patients have had to discontinue because of side effects. Monotherapy may be fine. It runs counter to my experience, so I tend to prescribe it with doxycycline.

A word for the wise. We don't really know how safe the drug is.  Sometimes problems only become known when an occasional drug becomes one in common use. We have seen it over and over, for example, fenfluramine off fen-fen fame caused unexpected heart and lung disease and Vioxx the great new anti-inflammatory caused heart disease. Drug companies who have studied drugs extensively and had FDA approval call this "post-marketing" side effects.

Yes, Antabuse is an old drug used by hundreds of recovering alcoholics. When this old drug, largely disregarded from decades, it is suddenly used by thousands of lyme sufferers it many ways acquires characteristics of a new drug. In this case one that has not been tested. Quality control of generics is increasingly becoming an issue, e.g. Zantac.

I am prescribing the drug, just not throwing caution to the wind.

There is the issue of dose.  For alcoholics the loading dose is 500 mg and maintenance dose is 125-250 mg. This suggests that lower doses have efficacy.

There is some confusion about Lyme Herxheimer reactions.  From experience, Lyme, Babesia and Bartonella have separate and distinct Herxheimer responses.  Herxheimer reactions occur when mass killing of chronic, entrenched infection leads to an over-reaching immune response, a cytokine storm. The average, non-Lyme doctor, is unaware of the phenomenon treating mostly acute infections. These same doctors no doubt encounter a fair number of Herxheimer reactions which are misdiagnosed, e.g. drug allergy. Some patients have an “allergy” to every antibiotic. No, they don’t. Other patients say, “every time I take an antibiotic it hits me hard.”

Babesia and Bartonella Herxheimer reactions are very vexing, chronic and sometimes difficult to manage. They are qualitatively different from Lyme Herx reactions.

Lyme “Herxes” tend to be easier and follow a specific pattern.  An antibiotic is introduced, with days severe symptoms ensue, like fatigue (inability to get out of bed fatigue) low grade fevers, brain fog, achiness etc. After a period of days, weeks, usually no more than 3 weeks, symptoms begin to improve and go away and the patient improves. The Herxheimer reaction (Lyme only) should not return in cycles. Such cycles, apparent recurring Herxes, may be the result of normal ups and downs of the disease or due to killing something else other than Lyme. If we add one or more drugs, which gain access to a previously off-limits group of bacteria (round forms, biofilms etc.) a Herx may return, maybe even a more difficult Herx.

Dr. Zhang has dichotomized Lyme bacteria for us: active forms (free spirochetes) and stationary/persister forms (round bodies, biofilms).

After a reasonable amount of treatment with antibiotics targeting both populations, e.g. doxycycline, rifampin and Flagyl we would like to think there are few Lyme bacteria left. We are incorrect.

Add in disulfiram and an intense Herxheimer reaction may ensue (in some cases, not all).  Patient tolerance to  varying doses of the drug is all over the map.  Some handle 500 mg out of the gate, others struggle with 125 every other day.

It makes sense to start with a low dose and gradually increase over time.  I am more aggressive apparently than many others.  Most patients can increase from 250 mg daily ramped to 500 mg over a week or two. For sensitive patients much lower doses and more gradual ramping is required.

I have seen patients on the border of needing IV antibiotics  get better with Disulfiram.

It doesn’t always work. There is still no one drug that works for every patient.  And symptoms still relapse quickly with discontinuation after a few months.  Some patients are still going to need IV antibiotics, (Rocephin, daptomycin, doxycycline) if possible.

In my experience disulfiram doesn't appear to kill Babesia. My experience. Babesia is an opportunistic infection riding on Lyme’s coat tail.  Lyme has inherent immune suppressing properties. If Lyme is largely gone, Babesia symptoms may abate as well. In a normal host the body's immune system can eradicate Babesia, or reduce it to a mild parasite causing no symptoms. Just a thought.

So far, we only know that Antabuse kills Lyme spirochetes and Staphylococcus. Hopefully research will be funded so we can learn more about the drug. We really don't know what it does or doesn't kill.

Bottom line: Go for it! Monitor labs, watch for side effects (no alcohol including herbal tinctures): disulfiram –is  not an overnight miracle cure -- but it is quickly rising to the top of the list of  go-to Lyme drugs.  

Monday, October 14, 2019

Unecessary suffering and beating a dead horse

My new 40 year old patient is besides herself.  She has struggled with a tickborne illness for 5 years.  She has managed to keep her job, but barely. She cries uncontrollably.  She is very irritable and angry. She complains of anxiety and panic attacks.  Mostly, she is depressed. She admits to night sweats.  She denies air hunger.  Ongoing symptoms include exhaustion, chills, poor sleep, tinnitus, painful lymph nodes, abdominal pain and nausea, GERD, irregular menses, joint pain, headache, dizziness and vertigo and feeling off balance, dysesthesias and crawling sensations, panic attacks, suicidal ideation (no plan or intent), brain fog, trouble with with focus and concentration and thinking clearly. She has had a lot of unexplained abdominal pain over the years.

She has seen 2 "Lyme"  doctors off and on over the last 5 years. She has also seen many "regular" doctors.  The first Lyme doctor diagnosed Bartonella and treated her extensively with minocycline, azithromycin and rifampin.She didn't get better.   A second Lyme doctor confirmed the diagnosis of Bartonella.  Laboratory tests were negative but the physician was certain on clinical grounds the diagnosis was correct.   After all, what else causes severe GI symptoms and abdominal pain?  Anxiety and irritability are typical symptoms, almost diagnostic - she heard somewhere.

The "regular" doctors diagnosed depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and hypochondriasis.

One Lyme doctor treated her with ivermectin for one year.   She states she thinks she had a Herxheimer reaction but does not know why this drug was prescribed. The treatment did not help.

The same doctor prescribed Biaxin and rifampin.  The dose of rifampin was increased to 1200 mg daily.  After 9 months of this therapy she has gotten worse.  The doctor told her she has not been treated long enough. She decided she has waited long enough.  She thinks she had Herxheimer reactions but never got better.

She has never been treated for Babesia or even Lyme. A course of doxycycline with other Lyme drugs was never prescribed -- or anti-Babesia therapy.

A LymeWestern Blot was equivocal by MDL standards, IgG only.
Serologial tests demonstrated a low positier titer for Rickettsia species.
All other serological tests, inclusive of  Bartonella and Babesia were negative.
CRP was elevateed at 10.

I am able to offer another test in my CLIA certified blood parasitology lab.

Her an image taken from her Giemsa smear:

If a patient doesn't respond to a therapy the clinician is obligated to go back to the blackboard and take another look.

The slide shows marked infection with the malaria-like red blood cell parasite: Babesia. Few things are black and white in Lyme's orbit. This is an exception.

This CDC endorsed standard malaria/Babesia smear is a gold standard.    Many tests circulating in the Lyme-osphere are questionable.

Even without this piece of dramatic evidence, the patient should have been treated for Lyme, e.g. Doxycycline/Ceftin (Tindamax, Flagyl, disulfiram and others) and also treated for Babesia.

This poor long-suffering patient went  5 years, with night sweats and profuse tearfulness (depression) and Babesia was never considered or treated.

Hundreds of things can cause abdominal pain other than Bartonella, etc, etc. The symptoms of Lyme and common coinfections overlap. No one symptom should be attributed to  a particular tickborne pathogen.

Babesia treatment includes Zithromax and high doses of Mepron plus Coartem plus Krintafel. It is important to completely knock out Babesia when first encountered.  Otherwise, the parasites relapse and return mean and drug resistant.  *Please don't use Malarone because Mepron, the yellow paint is hard to stomach. Two malarone twice daily provides a daily Atovaquone dose of 1000 mg.  Two tsp of Mepron twice daily provides 3000 mgs of atovaquone, three times the dose. This dose falls within FDA approved, manufacturer guidelines. This high initial dose must be used to avoid drug resistance and years of misery. If its virgin Babesia you have one change to hit it hard and fast. Don't miss.

I am optimistic. We will get her better and sooner rather than later.