Trying to Get a Handle on Lyme Disease

According to a story from Scientific American, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently decided to strike the diagnosis congenital Lyme disease from its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The document is a reference of all known diseases and provides guidance and general information about each one. Despite the omission, congenital Lyme disease—when a mother infected with Borrelia bacteria transmits the pathogens to an unborn child—appears to be quite real.

About Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus Borrelia. This bacteria is commonly spread to humans through the bite of a tick. In the US, the species of tick associated with Lyme disease is called the deer tick or the black legged tick (Ixodes scapularis). A tick must be attached to a person for at least 36 hours to transmit the bacteria. Symptoms of this disease include a distinctive bullseye rash surrounding the bite, fatigue, malaise, headache, and fever. Delays in treatment can lead to more serious symptoms, such as facial paralysis, mood changes, memory loss, sleeping difficulties, meningitis, arthritis, and others. In most cases, prompt treatment can effectively cure the infection. Delayed treatment increases the chance of serious complications and long term, lingering symptoms. The number of cases of the disease appears to be growing annually. To learn more about Lyme disease, click here.

Clearing The Air About Lyme Disease

The consequences of congenital Lyme disease often appear to be fatal for the children involved; many die within hours or are born with serious deformations and defects which affect them for the rest of their lives. So why did the WHO decide to omit the entry?

The group defended to the decision by claiming that their simply wasn’t enough evidence. While there have been nine studies that suggest indirect evidence that fetuses were harmed, there were also six that said there was no evidence. This lack of consistency suggests that more research is necessary. However, the omission still leaves patient advocates worried.

The ICD includes 14 other Lyme related diagnoses among its listings, highlighting the numerous ways that Lyme disease can affect people. These include Lyme-related dementia and Lyme carditis. The hesitancy to include congenital Lyme is also a reflection of larger issues and uncertainty surrounding Lyme disease, such as inconsistent and unreliable diagnostic tests, disparities in treatment effectiveness and response, and a significant number of cases in which long term symptoms linger for nearly a year, even after prompt treatment. This condition has been dubbed post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

The omission still discourages continued research on congenital Lyme; after all, the fact still remains that the pathogen has been found in utero. Clearly, more questions about congenital Lyme and other manifestations of this tick-borne illness still remain.


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