What is the fastest-growing infectious disease in the United States? One might guess HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis, or one of the other pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi, spread directly or indirectly. The answer is the tick-borne illness known as Lyme Disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported by state health departments and the District of Columbia annually. However, this number does not reflect every case of Lyme disease that is diagnosed in the United States every year. Recent estimates using methods other than the standard national surveillance by public health officials suggest that approximately 300,000 people may get Lyme disease each year in the United States.
This number may be shocking to many, especially those who live in Lyme prevalent areas such as the northeast and Great Lakes region of the United States. Add to these statistics the fact that many cases of Lyme Disease go misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed and we have a recipe for years of pain and suffering by those who have inflicted.
What Is Lyme Disease?
The CDC describes Lyme as a disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, AKA the deer tick. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is usually diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings such as a tell-tale rash, and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Unfortunately, many people who have been bitten do not experience symptoms or the rash as it may lie dormant in the human body for years.
The science behind the dormancy or lack of immediate symptoms lies in the characteristics of the bacteria itself. The tick-borne bacterium, or spirochete, is protected by a biofilm it creates to hide from the immune system. Often times, antibiotic intervention falls short of providing much needed symptomatic relief.
The Role of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a procedure that takes place inside an air sealed, transparent chamber filled with 100% pure oxygen increased atmospheric pressure. This process helps the body to absorb oxygen in a greater amount and transports it to the blood cells, blood plasma, cerebral-spinal fluid, and other body fluids. HBOT has been shown to elevate tissue oxygenation, which can be lethal to bacteria. This oxygen therapy also increases white blood cell activity and enhances antimicrobial responses. According to studies reported in the International Hyperbarics Association, “Oxygen is critical in the killing of bacteria and by exponentially raising oxygen levels throughout the body, the efficiency of bactericidal action of white blood cells can be enhanced dramatically.”
Clinical data and case reports have demonstrated the lasting benefits of HBOT for Lyme disease. Some improvements of note include decreased neuroinflammation, enhanced short term memory, reduced chronic fatigue, improved concentration, decrease in chronic headaches, lowering the risk of depression, and moderation of insomnia.
A trial at Texas A&M University examined the impact of HBOT on 91 patients with Lyme Disease. All of the patients in the trial failed to respond to intravenous antibiotics. During the trial, 67% of the patients remained on antibiotics throughout the trial. During the trial, 75% of the patients completed between 10-133 HBOT treatments. These treatments lasted one hour, twice a day, five times a week. Approximately 85% reported significant improvement with either a decrease in symptoms or a complete elimination of them. Most patients continued to see improvement even well after HBOT treatments. Long-term follow-ups showed that, from 6 weeks to 6 years, the benefits were sustained in 70% of patients.