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Conspiracy Theory: Is It True That Almost Everyone Has Lyme Disease

IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, we have often heard about Lyme disease – for example, Shania Twain , Avril Lavigne , Alec Baldwin , and more recently Justin Bieber talked about this infection . We figure out why this disease is so actively talked about, whether it is chronic and what does the conspiracy theory have to do with it .              

What it is

Another name for Lyme disease is borreliosis, and it is caused by several types of bacteria called borrelia. They are transmitted through tick bites. Borreliosis occurs mainly in North America, Europe and Asia , but in Australia it cannot be infected . True, due to climatic changes, the habitat of ticks carrying infections is gradually expanding , so that arachnids can appear in forests where they did not exist before . In Russia, in 2017 , 6141 people were diagnosed – this is 1.2% of all who consulted a doctor after a tick bite.                      

A characteristic symptom of borreliosis is the so-called erythema migrans, when the area of ​​redness of the skin gradually expands from the site of the bite, brightening in the center. Other symptoms can resemble the flu – a fever, chills, headache and pain in the body, swollen lymph nodes, and general malaise. Borreliosis is successfully diagnosed and treated with antibiotics (the course takes up to a month), and it is important to treat it on time – otherwise, acute symptoms may go away on their own, but there will be a risk of long-term consequences. According to Valentin Kovalev, an infectious disease specialist at the Rassvet clinic, “chronic” borreliosis is not quite the correct definition; if adequate treatment is not carried out, we can talk about a late stage of the disease, which manifests itself primarily in the form of severe arthritis, that is, inflammation of the joints. With this arthritis, antibiotics and NSAIDs are prescribed. It happens that the infection is not the cause, but only the trigger of joint inflammation, and then the treatment will be different. To confirm that arthritis is caused precisely by borrelia, the PCR method is used to analyze the joint fluid, which is obtained during the puncture.                      

In some patients after treatment for several months may be discomfort or pain – US Centers for control and disease prevention (CDC) called it “syndrome after treatment of Lyme disease”; this condition does not require antibiotic therapy , and their longer course does not accelerate the normalization of well-being. Australians identify “a chronic disease like Lyme disease” and insist that treating it with antibiotics is not only pointless, but also dangerous – both for the individual patient and for the international community; such a global risk is associated with the spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.                 

Sometimes if he chronic  

About chronic Lyme disease with symptoms resembling chronic fatigue syndrome, a few years ago the media started talking – because, of The The Huffington the Post in 2013 he released material under the title “You feel bad? Unless proven otherwise, you may have Lyme disease. ” The article is about the fact that almost any ailment can be explained by borreliosis, and you can catch it completely imperceptibly, because “each of us once walked through the forest.” True, the Science-Based Medicine website quickly posted a refutation : Chronic Lyme disease does not exist, although a number of doctors have already built an entire industry around its diagnosis and treatment.                     

Even before this in the journal The Lancet published an article about the fact that the proponents of chronic Lyme disease – is part of the anti-scientific movement, including, for example, HIV-dissidents and antiprivivochnikov and promote alternative therapies without proven efficacy, and often dangerous. The so-called ” Lyme literate medical doctors” (LLMDs) act unethically – they openly deceive patients, saying that most tests give false negative results, but the disease still needs to be treated, otherwise it will lead to autism, multiple sclerosis. congenital anomalies in children and to Alzheimer’s disease.                 

Lyme activists position the disease as widespread, difficult to diagnose and almost incurable, with nonspecific symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain, dizziness, or sleep problems . Like other anti-scientific movements, Lyme activists have created a whole parallel world to science – with their own associations , publications, research and medical practice. Naturally, they offer to be examined and treated only in certain laboratories and clinics, and treatment methods are dangerous – for example, chronic antibiotic therapy. In Russian-speaking groups of Lyme activists, in particular, the Polish clinic St. Luke’s; in addition to “chronic Lyme disease”, it offers to treat cancer – food supplements, infusions of vitamins and natural substances ( whatever that means), as well as hyperthermia.                        

Sometimes fraudsters are punished – the same article in Lancet provides examples of dismissals from university departments, convictions for forgery, disciplinary measures for using veterinary drugs in humans, intravenous hydrogen peroxide, or treatment of Lyme disease without preliminary examination. There were also sentences for the sale of medical equipment and drugs to treat a non-existent epidemic, and even imprisonment after the death of a patient who was “treated” with bismuth injections.             

Why do people believe it 

We talked about why people often follow anti-scientific movements – manipulation of facts, playing on emotions, belief in a conspiracy theory, cognitive distortions and distrust of official statistics play important roles . In addition , there are conditions for which the cause is not truly established and there is no definitive treatment , such as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia . Desire still find the cause and cure is understandable – but on it, and play those who disseminate information affecting everybody worms, chronic Lyme disease or disease of breast implants . This also includes diagnostics and an attempt to “cure” cytomegalovirus or Epstein -Barr virus , which almost everyone has and are safe for the vast majority of people.                            

The journal Environmental Health Perspectives has published an article on the psychopathogenesis of chronic Lyme disease – in fact, the reasons why people so often believe in this diagnosis and do not want to give it up. According to the authors, it attracts patients by answering several questions at once : there is a clear external cause of the malaise, and infection can be attributed to socially acceptable activities like hiking or gardening. This is more enjoyable than realizing that weakness or sleep problems are caused, for example, by a sedentary lifestyle. In this same text says that at least in half of patients attending specialist clinics, there is depression or excessive stress. Past trauma and depression can cause persistent symptoms, even when the infection did exist and was successfully treated.                            

All this means that in case of chronic malaise, pain, discomfort, it makes sense not to look for an infection, but to seek psychological help. True, in most cases, patients do not listen to this recommendation – on the contrary, they take offense at a doctor who is trying to send him to a psychiatrist for consultation . Another factor is the fear of chronic or lifelong treatments, especially hormonal ones. Such therapy can be prescribed, for example, for chronic arthritis. Lyme activists also tend to the fact that if arthritis can be a consequence of borreliosis, is and treat Lyme disease need. It seems to people that even if the course of antibiotics lasts a year or two, in the end it will be finite – and they will be able to get rid of the disease. As a result, it only gets worse.                     

Chronic Lyme disease advocates often use terms such as “detoxification”, “hormonal balance”, ” heavy metal cleansing ” and “strengthening the immune system.” We seem to have heard all this before – now from supporters of detox smoothies, now from advertisements for intravenous vitamin infusions, and also from people who are sure that almost the entire population of the Earth is infected with parasites. We see another conspiracy theory: when you enter the query “why Lyme disease” in English, Google offers options like “why Lyme disease is a man-made biological weapon.”             

Thanks to the internet, pseudoscience is spreading faster than ever before. The most popular Russian-speaking group dedicated to chronic Lyme disease has about 1,400 people, and the English- speaking group has about 15,000 . Members of the groups exchange publications on, for example, sexual transmission of borreliosis, addresses of clinics (the aforementioned Polish one is in the lead) and, of course , home treatment methods – from bone broth with kombucha to methylene blue (yes, that very blue) intravenously. As is often the case with pseudoscience, this is sometimes impressive, and it can be easy for a layman to fall into these networks. It is important that these groups also collect money for treatment; the reasoning is simple – doctors ignore the disease, and you need to go for treatment, for example, to Poland.                   

What to do

Borreliosis can really get sick after a tick bite – therefore, in forests, parks and squares it is worth remembering the usual precautions such as thick clothing, closed shoes and repellents. Of the tick-borne diseases, the vaccine so far is only for tick-borne encephalitis, and it is recommended for residents of endemic zones and those who plan to visit them, for example, go hiking. If the mite still dug into the skin , you need to contact the emergency room as soon as possible . It is often heard that a tick must be on the skin for at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease – but this data is confirmed primarily for the American continent. Ticks are common in Eurasia and can transmit infection in less than a day.                    

For those who have been troubled by non-specific symptoms for a long time – from fatigue to muscle pain – it is important not to succumb to the beliefs of the Lyme activists. If objective causes of discomfort are excluded at the visit to the doctor, it is worth contacting a mental health specialist – this condition may be a sign, for example, of depression. 

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