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Biofilms and Lyme Disease

Biofilms that form in the human body are up to ten thousand times more resistant to antibiotics than free-floating bacteria, making them very difficult to treat medically. These biofilms are responsible for the extreme persistence of many difficult to treat illnesses like Legionnaire’s disease, Staphylococcus aureus (“Staph”), and infectious bronchitis, that can trouble patients with frustrating symptoms for years.

Some years ago researchers showed that biofilms might also be helping the Lyme-causing bacteria evade treatment.(1) These findings have excited Lyme researchers who have since been exploring various treatment strategies designed to target the entire bacterial colony. If successful, these treatments might bring long-needed relief to patients with late-stage or persistent Lyme disease where antibiotics have previously failed.

What is a Biofilm?

A biofilm is something that we come into contact with every day.The plaque that forms on your teeth and causes tooth decay is a type of biofilm. Clogged drains are also caused by biofilm, and you may have encountered biofilm-coated rocks when walking into a river or stream.

Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces in some form of watery environment and begin to excrete a slimy, glue-like substance that can stick to all kinds of materials including metals, plastics, medical implant materials, and biological tissues. Biofilms can be formed by a single bacterial species or many species of bacteria, as well as fungi, algae, protozoa, debris, and corrosion products. Essentially, a biofilm may form on any surface exposed to bacteria and some amount of water.

Image: Stages of Biofilm Development(2)

Biofilms are thought to be responsible for more than 80% of microbial diseases, such as:

  • Otitis media, the most common acute ear infection in US children

  • Bacterial endocarditis, infection of the inner surface of the heart and its valves

  • Cystic fibrosis, a chronic disorder resulting in increased susceptibility to serious lung infections

  • Legionnaire’s disease, an acute respiratory infection resulting from the aspiration of clumps of Legionnella biofilms detached from air and water heating/cooling and distribution systems

  • Chronic wounds (wounds that do not heal within three months)

  • Hospital-acquired infections, such as infections acquired from the surfaces of catheters, medical implants, wound dressing, or other medical devices

How Might A Bioifilm Explain The Persistence of Lyme?

Forming a biofilm is a very effective protective mechanism and bacteria encased in a biofilm are highly resistant to antibiotics (up to 10,000-fold). So antibiotic treatment is often times not effective against cells protected in a biofilm. Unfortunately, cells within a biofilm can return to their freeliving form and escape to form new biofilms and/or colonize new tissues. Since antibiotics can’t be continuously given to a patient, there really isn’t anything to stop these bacteria cells from spreading the disease. It’s really a vicious cycle.

Is It Possible That The Antibiotics Might Actually Trigger The Biofilms to Build a Stronger Barrier?

Absolutely! Biofilm is a protective mechanism that cells turn on when they sense they’re under stress, so there’s significantly more biofilm formation when cells are treated with antimicrobial agents including antibiotics. Numerous studies have shown this for nearly all antibiotics.

To What Extent Does it Mask the Lyme Bacteria From Detection?

Since bacteria are encased in a biofilm and are not free-swimming in solution, they can be hard to detect using diagnostic tests that rely on solution samples (i.e. blood, etc).

Article provided by Bay Area Lyme Foundation

Jeff Hoyt  515-500-6050

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