Background: Controversy exists regarding the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. Patients with persistent symptoms after standard (2-4-week) antibiotic therapy for this tickborne illness have been denied further antibiotic treatment as a result of the perception that long-term infection with the Lyme spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, and associated tickborne pathogens is rare or nonexistent.
Methods: I review the pathophysiology of B. burgdorferi infection and the peer-reviewed literature on diagnostic Lyme disease testing, standard treatment results, and coinfection with tickborne agents, such as Babesia, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Bartonella species. I also examine uncontrolled and controlled trials of prolonged antibiotic therapy in patients with persistent symptoms of Lyme disease.
Results: The complex "stealth" pathology of B. burgdorferi allows the spirochete to invade diverse tissues, elude the immune response, and establish long-term infection. Commercial testing for Lyme disease is highly specific but relatively insensitive, especially during the later stages of disease. Numerous studies have documented the failure of standard antibiotic therapy in patients with Lyme disease. Previous uncontrolled trials and recent placebo-controlled trials suggest that prolonged antibiotic therapy (duration, >4 weeks) may be beneficial for patients with persistent Lyme disease symptoms. Tickborne coinfections may increase the severity and duration of infection with B. burgdorferi.
Conclusions: Prolonged antibiotic therapy may be useful and justifiable in patients with persistent symptoms of Lyme disease and coinfection with tickborne agents.