Let’s say you’re bitten by a tick and then you come down with a fever. All of a sudden, you’re concerned that you might have a case of acute Lyme disease. So you go down to the emergency room and ask for a Lyme disease test. They come back a few days later and tell you the test is negative. Can you rely on that? Is there any way you could have come down with Lyme disease and the tests are negative? The answer is yes.
The blood tests for acute Lyme infections are based on antibodies. And the antibodies to the disease often don’t show up for four to six weeks. So you could easily have to wait for a month or longer to get the antibiotic treatment you need. But that may be a thing of the past.
Recently researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reported on a new testing system. This new system can diagnose acute Lyme infections within days and save you the long wait. They’ve found that the Lyme bacteria, like other bacteria, tend to “shed” as it circulates in the blood. And these shed particles contain proteins that can help researchers identify what bacteria they come from.
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The researchers were able to separate these particles from the rest of the blood serum by running samples through a high-speed centrifuge. They tested their method with three patients who had as-yet-undetected Lyme disease.
For one of these patients, the new method identified the presence of the Lyme bacteria a full three weeks before standard blood tests were able to do so. Three weeks can make a big difference in treating acute Lyme effectively with antibiotics. So this is potentially a big breakthrough. What’s more, this method will likely be applicable to other infectious diseases as well.
Right now, this test is not available at your doctor’s office. So as of today the most effective way to get an early diagnosis is to save the tick. If you ever notice a tick, and especially if you live in a Lyme disease part of the country, save the tick and take it down to your doctor so he can send it to the lab to be tested for Lyme. That will take only a few days. If the tick is free from Lyme, you can be confident that you’re not infected.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Crystal S. F. Cheung, Kyle W. Anderson, Kenia Y. Villatoro Benitez, Mark J. Soloski, John N. Aucott, Karen W. Phinney, Illarion V. Turko. Quantification of Borrelia burgdorferi Membrane Proteins in Human Serum: A New Concept for Detection of Bacterial Infection. Analytical Chemistry, 2015; 87 (22): 11383 DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.5b02803.