The Biology of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease, simply stated, is a multi-systemic bacterial infection spread primarily through the bite of an infected tick. But there is nothing simple about this virulent organism.  It's official name is Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), and it was initially classified with protozoa because it is so unique. Borrelia possesses the largest number of DNA replicators making it amongst the most complex bacteria around.  

The "morphic" enigma:

Borrelia burgdorferi is a spiral-shaped "spirochete' when it enters the human blood stream, and uses that active form to quickly disperse throughout the body and the "tunnel" into soft tissue. This "smart" bacteria will quickly and easily change it's genetic structure into two other cell forms: the "L" form and the "cyst" form; and will link up in different combinations of the three forms.

Some of the more frightening aspects of Lyme disease are:

  • Increasing evidence that the bacteria is spread by biting insects other than ticks 
  • Increasing evidence that the bacteria can be transmitted sexually 

But perhaps the most frightening aspect of Lyme disease is the intelligent survival nature of the bacteria: 

  • It immediately adjusts its DNA to evade the immune system of its new host.
  • It can “encyst” within one minute when endangered making it impervious to antibiotics, freezing and thawing.
  • In lab studies, the spirochete removed from the test subject was genetically different from the spirochete that had been initially injected
  • It can burrow into any tissue, even blood cells to avoid detection, but most commonly bile and other harmless microbes or parasites
  • It rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier and wreaks havoc with the central nervous system and glandular functions (see Lyme Symptom List)

**Watch Columbia University's power-point presentation at www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/nursing/ m8770/2003/infectious%20diseases.ppt

 

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