Some recent speculation over the potential bacterial origins of MS focuses on a bacteria related to Borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme disease bacteria), called Borrelia mylophora. This name is not recognized in the medical community, with the research on the bacteria largely the work of Dr. Hoekstra, a microbiologist. His hypothesis is that the myelin sheaths around the nerves are collateral damage as the body recognizes an invasive threat in the form of bacterial infection and gathers an army of immune cells to hunt it down and eradicate the infection. Hoekstra says that “B. mylophora has an extremely high affinity for the myelin sheath. It loves it.” Searches of the major medical journals databases find no mention of this bacteria however, although there are a number of publications investigating the link between Lyme neuroborreliosis and MS.
Vincent Marshall was, perhaps, one of the first of a raft of recent researchers to consider the possibility that MS was a chronic central nervous system infection by a spirochaetal agent such as Borrelia burgdorferi. His 1988 paper in the journal Hypothesis mentioned the earlier work, prior to 1954, which looked at a bacterial aetiology for MS using silver staining of neural lesions, and animal isolation of the causative bacteria. Marshall notes that, if this hypothesis is correct then the demyelinating disease should be treatable using high dose antibiotics that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and penetrate the central nervous system as well as possibly being preventable with the use of vaccines.
Is Infection with Lyme Disease Rare in MS Patients?
However, another researcher followed Marshall’s review a year later with a paper detailing the low levels of Lyme disease antibodies detected in the blood of MS patients, with just 1/89 definite MS patients antibody-positive and 2/11 non-MS patients positive for Borrelia antibodies (Coyle, 1989). Coyle concluded that infection with Borrelia burgdorferi is rare in MS and that Lyme disease is unlikely to provide a differential diagnosis for MS. Coyle (et al, 1993) followed up this earlier research by assessing the significance of positive serological findings in MS patients for Borrelia antibodies. The study found that 19/283 patients in an MS clinic had a borderline or positive blood test for the Lyme disease bacteria with a follow-up antibody test confirming seropositivity in 11 of these.
The cerebrospinal fluid of ten of these patients was then tested with half showing no evidence of intrathecal (spinal canal) production of Borrelia antibodies. Coyle and his fellow researchers concluded that a single positive blood test for Lyme disease antibodies in MS patients who had no suggestive features of the infection was unlikely to indicate neuroborreliosis. The accuracy of the testing methods used in these studies, as with any study relying on ELISA and Western blot testing, may be called into question however, but the attitude that Lyme disease and MS are not connected has prevailed since.
Distribution of MS and Lyme Cases
Writing in 2002, Fritzsche took these ideas regarding the cause of MS symptoms and looked at the geographical and seasonal correlation between MS and sporadic schizophrenia. It appeared that there was a significant overlap between cases of schizophrenia, MS, and the distribution of Ixodes ricinus ticks that spread Lyme disease in Europe. Fritzsche observed that more temperate climates had higher rates of infection in ticks of Borrelia garinii and that these infection rates matched the distribution of MS cases. Furthermore, Fritzsche noted that the birth excesses of MS and those of schizophrenia were nine months apart, suggesting that they were linked to the activity of the Ixodes ricinus ticks in Europe at the time of conception and the time of birth. Similarly, in the US, the nine month gap between clusters of MS and clusters of schizophrenic births mirrors the activities of the Ixodes pacificus and Ixodes scapularis Lyme disease ticks. Fritzsche expresses concern over the potential transmission of Lyme disease between mother and child during gestation, although official guidelines maintain that Lyme disease is not contagious.
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