Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is an infectious bacterial disease that can result from the bite of an infected deer tick. Symptoms generally begin with a bulls-eye skin rash and flu-like symptoms followed by muscle and joint pain and potentially heart problems including heart block and palpitations. Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics if diagnosed early. Patients do not start treatment early enough develop intermittent or persistent arthritis, generally arthritis of the knee. Some of these patients experience arthritis symptoms for months or even years. This condition is known as antibiotic-refractory Lyme arthritis.
Recently, a team of researchers at the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the National Center for Infections Diseases studied the survival of the bacteria that causes Lyme following antibiotic treatment. What they found was that joint inflammation persisted after the bacteria had been killed. Their report is being published in the December, 2007 issue of Arthritis Rheumatism.
The team compared blood samples taken from people that had contracted Lyme disease in the late 1970’s before the cause of the disease was known. Three classes of patients were identified which included patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis, antibiotic-responsive arthritis and non-antibiotic-treated controls.
3 blood samples were studied for each patient and were tested for levels of the bacteria. The non-antibiotic treated group had high levels of bacteria and persistent arthritis lasting 2 to 5 years. The antibiotic-reactive patients show reducing levels of bacteria and relief from joint swelling within the first 3 months of treatment. The antibiotic-refractory patients showed slight increases in bacteria during the first 1 to 3 months of treatment with persistent arthritis for an average of 10 months. However, the bacteria level did decline to the level of the other antibiotic treated group within 4 to 6 months.
They concluded that antibiotics did result in the eradication of the bacteria even though the arthritis symptoms could continue after the infection was cleared.