There is significant evidence that chronic illness is linked to infection. This means that infection either directly caused or triggered the illness, or that infection is responsible for the perpetuation of the condition.
The singer/actor Kris Kristofferson and his long undiagnosed battle with Lyme disease have recently been reported in the media. His story is representative of what many people experience. In 2012 Kris was diagnosed with fibromyalgia while suffering with massive, painful spasms over his back and legs. In 2013 with symptoms of memory loss and cognition difficulties, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He was further diagnosed with sleep apnea and given a pacemaker for heart arrhythmias. He never really improved much on treatments so his wife took him to an integrative doctor in 2016 who diagnosed Lyme disease. Following treatment for this underlying infection, he is doing much better. No more Alzheimer’s but still some short term memory loss.
His story has been repeated thousands of times by people with chronic Lyme disease. Multiple diagnoses, multiple doctors, limited improvement with conventional treatments, then finally a Lyme diagnosis and improvement with treatment.
While Kristofferson’s experience was specific to Lyme disease, many different infections are linked to chronic illnesses. Decades of research and clinical experience have shown the connection.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with mental or physical activity, and does not improve with rest. Some patients also suffer from cognitive dysfunction, memory loss and brain fog. Most CFS patients have immunological abnormalities and many have chronic bacterial and viral infections. The common infections present are Mycoplasma, Chlamydia pneumonia, Lyme Borrelia bacteria, Human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6), Parvovirus (Parvo B19), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein’s Barr Virus (EBV), chronic mold and mycotoxins. The connection to infection is clear, but does not determine cause. Many patients, however, develop severe fatigue in response to infection or toxic exposure (mold). Their immune systems essentially overreact to the infection compared to people without CFS. The chronic inflammation of the immune system that follows the initial infection could explain the cause of fatigue in these susceptible patients. Dysfunctional immune activation and inflammation keeps on going in a self-perpetuating manner. There is no off button and fatigue is persistent and debilitating.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is an often misunderstood condition that causes the body to feel pain far beyond normal levels, resulting in widespread muscle pain and fatigue. Infections, physical trauma and emotional stress can trigger FM. With respect to infection as a direct cause, a common scenario is to get a virus, and develop fatigue and pain that does not go away. In one study, 55% of patients reported that a flu-like virus was the trigger for their symptoms. FM occurs when an infection penetrates the lymphatic system, connective tissues or nervous system. The mechanism by which infection leads to fibromyalgia is probably related to inflammatory or autoimmune changes caused by the infection that starts the FM cascade. The actual infection resolves and is long gone, yet FM symptoms continue. In many cases, the infecting virus or bacteria persists as a low grade infection that activates the autoimmune response, thereby triggering FM. Common linked infections are Mycoplasma, Chlamydia pneumonia, Lyme Borrelia bacteria, Human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6), Parvovirus, Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein’s Barr Virus (EBV). Treating these viral and bacterial infections can lead to resolution of chronic symptoms of FM. Dr. Dantini, M.D., says antiviral medications work in 70-75% of his patients after 10 to 14 weeks, while other need to take the drugs for up to 6 months.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a debilitating condition characterized by joints that are swollen, tender, red and warm to the touch. Classified as an autoimmune disease, the cause is undetermined. Infection, however, is highly associated with RA. One scenario is that the immune system overreacts to an infection and attacks the joints. The other situation is that there is an existing infection present in the joint capsule. Research dating back to 1939 has implicated mycoplasma infection as a cause of RA. Dr. Brown, MD, a rheumatologist, helped over 10,000 patients (1950 to 1989) by treating mycoplasma bacterial infections with antibiotics for 12-24 months. There are over 200 studies that support the use of antibiotics in rheumatic illnesses. Bartonella has also been documented in patients with RA.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is characterized by muscle rigidity, resting tremor and loss of voluntary movement. The pathogenesis of PD has been proposed to be due to multiple genetic and neurotoxic exposures that produce cell death. The etiology (cause) of PD still remains unclear. Recent studies, however, have identified Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein’s Barr Virus (EBV), herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), Lyme Borrelia bacteria, Chlamydia pneumonia and H. pylori in PD patients. While the presence of these infections may be a potential cause, without question they affect the progression and treatment of PD by stimulating inflammation and autoimmunity.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, a collection of brain disorders usually found in older patients. There is slow, progressive loss of brain function, memory lapses, disorientation, confusion, mood swings, personality changes, paranoia, language problems, loss of behaviour inhibitions and loss of motivation. AD is characterized by distinct changes in the brain, specifically plaques within brain nerves and the deposition of altered amyloid proteins. The development of these amyloid plaques has been thought to be the primary causative factor for AD for decades. Amyloid plaques, however, are also formed in response to an infection in the brain. The presence of brain infections such as Chlamydia pneumonia and Lyme Borrelia bacteria have been linked to the formation of amyloid plaques. The brain becomes more susceptible to infection as we age and the brain’s defenses rush in to stop the invader by forming amyloid plaques. Autopsies of the brains of AD patients have clearly shown Lyme borrelia bacteria hiding in parasitic worms, and bacterial populations 10 times greater than healthy brains. Recent work has also shown that herpesvirus infections put some people on the fast track to AD. The majority of the population is infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) by the time they reach 70 years of age. In middle age, the virus travels to the brain where it remains dormant, followed by intermittent reactivation and major inflammation of brain tissue. Despite this increased risk of AD, new research has shown that treating this infection with antiviral medication may substantially reduce the risk and progression of AD.
MS (multiple sclerosis) is the most common demyelinating disease (loss of protective cover of nerve tissue) of the central nervous system. This causes a decrease or loss of electrical impulses along the nerves that can result in impaired vision, alterations in motor, sensory and coordination systems, and cognitive dysfunction. Many MS sufferers have significant mobility problems requiring a wheelchair. Most MS patients show immunological and inflammation elevations consistent with chronic infections. The most common finding is Chlamydia pneumonia bacteria that steals energy (ATP) from cells. While it can run rampant throughout the body, it absolutely infects the nerve tissues. Other infections that have been identified are Lyme Borrelia bacteria, Bartonella, Human herpes virus 6 (HHV6), Mycoplasma and retroviruses. Most studies have reported that the progressive form of MS was related to chronic infections, indicating that infections might be more important in MS progression than its inception.
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is an adult onset, progressive neurodegenerative disease. Patients suffer more and more weakness and paralysis of muscles, ultimately resulting in death, usually by respiratory failure. Research has provided an abundance of evidence of the presence of many chronic infections in ALS sufferers. Mycoplasma, Lyme Borrelia bacteria, Human herpes virus 6 (HHV6), Chlamydia pneumonia and retroviruses are common. Mycoplasma is most notable because this bacteria actively damages the nervous system by scavenging fats from the myelin sheath covering nerve tissue. The exact role that infections play in the pathogenesis or progression of ALS is unknown. They could contribute directly to the cause or progression of ALS or they could simply be opportunistic infections that cause all manner of health problems associated with ALS.
Just because there is a link between infection and chronic illness that does not mean that by simply treating the underlying infection, the illness will go away. Many patients, especially those in the early stages of their conditions, can be helped significantly by treating underlying infections. Many people suffering with chronic conditions for years, however, can have irreparable damage, and improvement can be limited. Even with permanent damage, however, reducing or eliminating the infection, still has the potential benefit of slowing or halting the progression of the chronic illness.
This information challenges the current medical care model that is primarily designed to manage chronic conditions. For most illnesses, there are no known causes, and treatment targets managing symptoms. But it is not without the human cost of further deterioration of your body. Most conditions require multiple drugs that impose toxins on an already compromised immune system and a body exhausted from fighting the illness.
The link between infection and chronic illness is “chicken or egg”. What came first? Did the infection cause or trigger the illness, or did the chronic illness come first and opportunistic infections came later when the immune system was compromised? Research is ongoing and no one knows how long it will take before answers are forthcoming. For the patient suffering with the chronic illness, it does not matter when or how the infection got there. All that matters is the high probability of infection and that treating the infection may have a benefit.
There is sufficient information (research and clinical experience) to do a therapeutic trial of treatment for infection. A therapeutic trial is a limited treatment regimen usually commencing with lower dose medicines. It is very important that the patient be prepared, so optimal support and detoxification medicines are usually required before starting a trial. The patient’s current management drugs are not stopped or decreased. The trial is an add-on.
The outcome may be no improvement to small improvement to significant improvement in symptoms. While there are always risks from any form of treatment, a properly implemented therapeutic trial limits the downside. Any risks are greatly outweighed by the potential rewards.
Chronic illness can be very debilitating and the drug therapies used to manage the condition can have significant side effects. Since the possibility of infection is significant, therapeutic trial of treatment for infection is warranted for many people suffering from chronic illness.