01.11.2018
Research news

Tick-borne disease is not just Lyme

A study recently published in Scientific Reports discovered that 65% of Lyme disease patients irrespective of their disease stage respond to several microbes. As a consequence, the authors have demonstrated that microbial infections in individuals suffering from Lyme disease do not follow the "one microbe, one disease" status-quo. Moreover, the probability that Lyme disease patients would respond to multiple microbes associated with the tick-borne disease is an astounding 85 %.

Researchers have observed a remarkable 65% Lyme disease (LD) patients at different disease stages, respond to various microbes signifying that microbial infections in LD patients do not follow the "one microbe, one disease" Germ Theory.  Furthermore, the authors have indicated a novel Borrelia biomarker, "Borrelia persistent form," that can enhance the sensitivity of any existing LD diagnostic tests. Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended two-tier method, Garg et al., show that 72% of individuals (i.e., 3 / 4 individuals) classified "negative" by the CDC two-tier LD test, were positive for ‘Borrelia persistent form’ and other microbes such as Babesia, Bartonella, and Ehrlichia. Co-infections transmitted by the ticks to humans are common and documented in multiple countries like Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK, and the US to mention the least. However, the research by Garg et al. argues that prolonged exposure to tick transmitted microbes weakens the human immune system increasing the host’s vulnerability to other common microbes’ labelled "non-tick-borne opportunistic microbes," such as Chlamydia, Mycoplasma, Epstein-Barr virus and many more.

Infected ticks are global challenge
For the first time, Garg et al. establish an astounding 85% probability for multiple microbial infections in LD patients that include tick-borne pathogens and non-tick-borne opportunistic microbes. Dr. Leona Gilbert with her doctoral student and first author Kunal Garg from University of Jyväskylä has demonstrated the need to reform clinical practice and health care policies for diagnosing tick-borne diseases (TBDs). Screening for various microbes would decrease the rate of misdiagnosed or undiagnosed cases, increase the health-related quality of life for the patients, and may ultimately drive clinical research to discover a treatment for TBD and not just for LD. The authors understand that their research results may seem controversial. However, in the best interest of global public health and to curb the growing epidemic of TBD, it is essential that clinicians, patients, and scientists in general learn and identify TBD as multiple microbial in nature.

Less costs better life
TBD are vector-borne diseases transmitted by infected ticks. They are a global health challenge, as a predicted 35% of the world’s population will be infected by 2050. Ticks are susceptible to multiple infections and can co-transmit several of these infections to their host. LD is the most prevalent TBD caused by the bacterial spirochete Borrelia. In the United States alone, 83% of all commercial TBD diagnostic tests are LD focused in spite of the known possibility of infection by more than one pathogenic agent. Consequently, it takes over 11 different visits, 11 different doctors, and 11 different tests to get a proper diagnosis and this amplifies the financial burden on the patients and ultimately the society. Despite TBD outbreak and progress in research efforts to understand TBD over the past 20 years, diagnostics tools have remained unchanged.

The research published in Scientific Reports from the publishers of Nature on 29th of October, 2018. The study was supported by the Schwartz Foundation, the Finnish Innovation Funding Agency TEKES, and the Scientific Grant Agency of Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic and Slovak Academy of Sciences. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and analyses, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Contact information

  • Dr. Leona Gilbert, leona.k.gilbert@jyu.fi
  • Kunal Garg, +358 469333845, kunal.k.garg@jyu.fi
  • Article information: K. Garg, L. Meriläinen, O. Franz, H. Pirttinen, M. Quevedo-Diaz, S. Croucher and L. Gilbert, Evaluating polymicrobial immune responses in patients suffering from tick-borne diseases Scientific Reports. volume 8, Article number: 15932 (2018)
  • Link to article: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-34393-9