Lyme Disease Bacteria

lyme disease bacteria borrelia spirochaeteLyme disease bacteria were first identified in the US following an investigation in 1975, by Allen Steere, into the, now infamous, Lyme disease outbreak in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut. A cluster of cases diagnosed as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis were questioned by parents and an investigation was commenced, quickly followed by the discovery of adult patients with similar symptoms at a nearby naval base. Scientists working in the town of Old Lyme speculated that the location of the cases in a rural location and the onset of symptoms during summer and early fall suggested that the disease was transmitted by an arthropod vector.

Willy Burgdorferi and Lyme Disease

The researcher who identified the Lyme disease bacteria as the aetiologic agent of the infection was Willy Burgdorferi, who lent his name to the spirochaetes. Borrelia burgdorferi were isolated from the mid-guts of Ixodes ticks and found to provoke an immune system response in the immune serum of patients diagnosed with Lyme disease. The Lyme disease bacteria has now been found to have a number of hybrid strains leading to the term Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato to refer to all those bacteria which cause Lyme disease and retaining Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto as the cause of the infection in the US. Borrelia strains found in Europe and Asia include Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii, amongst others, and these spirochaetes appear to produce a slightly different symptom profile to B. burgdorferi s.s.

The morphology of Lyme disease bacteria is particularly interesting in terms of the altered risk of infection with different strains, the potential to use vaccination as a Lyme disease prevention strategy, and the ability to treat the spirochaetal infection given the progression of the pathology. There is some evidence that the bacteria can switch to a cystic form to avoid eradication by some antibiotics, with the capacity to then revert to the spirocahaetal form once the threat has abated. Determining the extent to which the Lyme disease bacteria can avoid detection through this method is an important element in devising adequate Lyme disease treatment protocols.