Much of the controversy over Lyme disease centers on the patients who experience chronic illness. When Lyme is caught late, patients may continue to have lingering symptoms even after antibiotic treatment.
Research on primates has shown that the Lyme-causing bacteria can physically remain even after antibiotic treatment.
While it is still unknown why these patients experience chronic symptoms, our research on primates has shown that the Lyme-causing bacteria can physically remain even after antibiotic treatment. We still need to determine whether the remaining bacteria are capable of causing disease or if they eventually die off.
It’s clear, though, that when the bacteria remain in the body for a long time, they disperse and are harder to detect. For instance, if the bacteria are hiding in the joints in a dormant state, they can’t be detected from a blood sample.
The current diagnostic tests for Lyme, which detect specific antibodies in the serum, are most reliable after the infection has disseminated — one to two months after the tick bite. Meanwhile, the antibodies produced in response to the bacteria change over time, and with treatment. So tests vary in reliability depending on when blood samples are taken and by the type of antibodies being tested.