Lyme Bacteria Linger In Tissue After Antibiotic Treatment

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in the United States, can linger in mouse tissues long after a full round of antibiotic treatment is completed, report researchers from the University of California, Davis.

The scientists caution that the discovery does not suggest the presence of chronic disease, nor does it support extended use of antibiotics to treat Lyme disease in humans. Their findings were reported March 31 by the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. [See “Persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi Following Antiobiotic Treatment in Mice.”]

However, they say, the results of this study do set the stage for controlled laboratory research investigating potential therapies for persistent Lyme disease infections.

"Lyme disease is a tough nut to crack. The bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi has evolved to evade the body's immune system so it's not surprising that it can also evade antibiotics," said Stephen Barthold, lead researcher on the study. Barthold is director of the UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine, a cooperative research center in the schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine that investigates animal models of human disease.

"It's important to note that the numbers of residual bacteria identified in this study were very low and there was no evidence that they were causing inflammation," Barthold said. "Their presence shouldn't be misconstrued as a sign of chronic disease."


Borrelia burgdorferi, the corkscrew-shaped bacterium that causes Lyme disease, is transmitted to humans and animals through bites from infected deer ticks. In the United States, Lyme disease is most prevalent in the Northeastern and Great Lakes states, and is present to a lesser extent in Northern California. Other high-risk Lyme disease areas are scattered throughout the nation, usually in shady, moist deciduous forests where the carrier ticks and their wildlife hosts flourish.

Symptoms of Lyme disease are highly variable and may include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash. If the infection is not treated, it can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Usually, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with about four weeks of antibiotics. Treatment is most successful during the early stages of infection. A few patients, particularly those treated during late infection, may experience persistent or recurring symptoms after the antibiotic treatment is finished, in which case a second round of antibiotics may be prescribed.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic treatment above and beyond one repeat round has not been shown to be beneficial and has been linked to serious complications, including death.


Many of those involved with Lyme disease – including patients, doctors, researchers and health insurance companies – are divided over how to treat the ailment when it persists beyond a second round of antibiotics. Some patients with persistent or recurrent Lyme disease symptoms report experiencing fatigue, joint pain, extreme headaches, facial paralysis and memory loss. Much of the controversy revolves around debate over whether symptoms reflect continued infection after treatment.

There has been minimal scientific evidence to support the claim that infection with the Lyme disease bacterium can persist in a chronic state following antibiotic treatment. As a result, treatment guidelines recommend against prescribing long-term antibiotics for persistent Lyme disease symptoms. Many physicians and health insurance companies refuse to prescribe or pay for extended antibiotic treatments.


Barthold and colleagues studied antibiotic treatments for Borrelia burgdorferi infection in laboratory mice. One group of mice was treated for one month with the antibiotic ceftriaxone, beginning during the first three weeks of infection. A second group received the same antibiotic for one month, but beginning at four months after infection, representing a chronic infection. A third group, serving as the control, received only saline for one month, rather than the antibiotic.

When the antibiotic treatments were completed, DNA analysis showed that small numbers of the Lyme disease-causing bacteria remained in the tissues of the antibiotic-treated mice. Ticks allowed to feed on these infected mice were also able to acquire and transmit the infectious bacteria. Curiously, despite the apparent viability of the bacteria, they could not be detected by standard laboratory cultures.

The findings support the theory that the bacteria remain viable and that some bacteria evade antibiotic treatment by taking refuge in collagen-rich tissues, skin, ligaments and tendons.

"Our theory is that these remaining bacteria are in a metabolically dormant, non-dividing state," Barthold said. "This would explain why we were unable to culture them. In future studies we need to look at the long-term fate of these bacteria," he said. "They seem to be non-dividing. If so,

  • Are they permanently crippled by the antibiotics and eventually would die out,
  • Or would they grow back over the long term and cause a recurrence of the disease?"

While the residual bacteria do not appear to cause disease, they may contribute to the persistence of Lyme disease symptoms, the researchers suggested. "This may explain why some Lyme disease patients recover slowly following antibiotic treatment, exhibiting what has been termed "post-Lyme disease syndrome," Barthold said.

The existence of a small number of sequestered bacteria should not come as a surprise, he added, noting that with disease-causing agents like herpes virus and the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and syphilis, it is not unusual for the infectious organisms to persist at levels that do not actually cause symptoms.

"This is just part of our world of microbes," Barthold said. "Antibiotics are designed to kill large numbers of bacteria – to knock them down to the point that the body's immune system can get control of the infection." Bacteria have evolved the means to survive antibiotics in the natural world, he noted. Furthermore, if disease-causing organisms such as Borrelia have evolved the means to escape clearance by the immune system, it is not surprising that the bacteria that survive antibiotic treatment would not be eliminated.

In the case of Lyme disease, the research findings do not suggest that continued use of antibiotics would succeed in getting rid of the lingering bacteria. "I suspect that if the initial round of antibiotics hasn't eliminated them, it's not likely that a longer regimen of antibiotics would be any more successful," Barthold said.

"It's more likely that a completely different class of antibiotics would be needed to accomplish that. This laboratory mouse model will allow us to address those possibilities."

Funding for this study was provided by a U.S. Public Health Service grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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6 thoughts on “Lyme Bacteria Linger In Tissue After Antibiotic Treatment”

  1. pacific1 says:

    While the lyme is present in your body it physically creates changes to the soft tissue allowing the infection to hide from the immune system. When you take antibiotics or herbals they kill some of the active lyme but to get to the lyme hiding you must take the meds for a prolonged period,years. Since you can’t take anti’s for years the choice is natural herbals. I contracted lyme 12 years ago and like most took 5 years to figure out what was going on. I’ve been on the herbal remedy now for 7 years and most of my symptoms are gone. During the use of the herbal you feel all of the symptoms gradually fade away, but one very interesting development is the ability to cough up the thick yellow mucous infection. Towards the end of the process it starts breaking up just like the flu. Before taking the herbals this congestion would not come out no matter how hard I coughed. During this whole process the ringing in the ears has subsided almost to nil and my sleep is completely on schedule and back to normal. The interference in the sleep is what causes the fatigue. The herbals I use can be found at Nutramedix. Good luck.

    1. kmpelley says:

      I am very confused by this article. I know folks who have had recurring lymes, often with severe symptoms, for 20 to 30 years. I understand this kind of information has made it more difficult for people with long term lymes to get treatment because their insurance companies jump on this and refuse treatment.

    2. aruraclinic says:

      Here is a great article that coincides with ProHealth’s latest on Lymes Disease and how treating with Antibiotics is not always the answer:

      Natural Treatment of Lyme’s Disease

      Dr. Shandor Weiss is a specialist in the natural treatment of Lyme’s Disease. His Naturopathic treatment of Lyme’s Disease works by removing obstacles to the immune system, so that the patient can heal themselves. Dr. Weiss has treated many, many patients with Lyme’s disease. All of them (who have followed his recommendations) have recovered… always without the use of antibiotic drugs, and often even without the use of natural antibiotic herbal medicines. How can Dr. Weiss get these kind of results, when so many patients suffer without recovery, even after long periods of antibiotic treatment from “Lyme’s disease specialists”?

      The answer is, that Lyme’s Disease itself is usually not that difficult an illness to cure. Usually the main problem is with the patient’s immune system. And, as with the general treatment of the immune system, the important thing is not “what to do or take” to strengthen it, as much as “what to undo or get rid of” that is weakening it. Dr. Weiss gets results with the holistic treatment of Lyme’s Disease, even when others have not, because he specializes in finding the precise reasons for a weakened immune system. Once these reasons or causes are found, it is usually not that difficult to remove them. Once removed, the patient’s own natural self healing capacity restores itself. In other words, the patient’s immune system gets rid of the Lyme’s Diseases-causing bacteria. Our immune systems are so much more sophisticated than any treatment a doctor can devise, and this is why self healing is the best way to cure Lyme’s Disease. Or any other illness!

      There is an epidemic of undiagnosed and poorly treated Lyme’s Disease. There are several reasons for this. One is that tests are inaccurate. There is a very high rate of false negatives, which means people can have Lyme’s Disease and be told that they don’t, based on test results. The main reason for this is that there is a flaw in the test. It uses an infected person’s antibodies to the bacteria that causes Lyme’s Disease. But in a case where there is recent infection, the antibodies are often all stuck to the bacteria in the patient’s blood. There are none left over to react to the test. Or, in a chronic case of Lyme’s Disease, the immune system has exhausted its capacity to produce antibodies, so there again, none show up on the test.

      Dr. Shandor Weiss learned of this problem when he was serving as a Peer Research Reviewer at the National Institute of Health’s Office of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. There he met the doctor who had originally created the test, who happened to be serving on the same research review panel. The two doctors discussed this issue. The inventor to the test knew of the problem, but did not know of a way around it. That was in the 1990s, and the problem with the Lyme’s Disease tests still exists. Unfortunately, most doctors just believe in the test. If it is negative, that’s the end of the investigation. Fortunately, a few more enlightened Lyme’s disease specialists treat the patient regardless of test results, if other factors indicate a diagnosis of Lyme’s Disease.

      Another reason that people with Lyme’s Disease remain undiagnosed, is that the infection can occur anywhere in the body… even when it is not active or present in the blood. A common site of Lyme’s Disease infection is the central nervous system: the spinal cord and brain. In order to diagnose an infection there, a spinal tap has to be done. Not many doctors would even think of doing this in order to diagnose Lyme’s Disease. Even if a doctor suggested a spinal tap, many patients refuse to do one.

      Want more reasons why Lyme’s Disease goes undiagnosed in so many cases? One is that people think there has to be a large “bull’s eye” mark where the tick bit them. If they don’t remember that, they mislead the doctor by denying any tick bites. The truth is, many people have become infected with Lyme’s Disease by tick bites they were not even aware of. To make matters worse, fleas and mosquitoes and people can spread Lyme’s Disease, contrary to what medical authorities say.

      The last big reason that Lyme’s Diseases is so under-diagnosed, is that the symptoms of this illness can look like almost any other illness. The typical appearance of arthritis-like joint pains does not happen with everyone who has Lyme’s Disease. There is a subset of patients who only have the infection… and symptoms… in the central nervous system. Here, the illness can look like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, depression, panic attacks, psychosis, dementia, or just about anything.

      Another common site of Lyme’s infection is the pericardium, a thin sac that surrounds the heart. This causes pericarditis. The pericarditis may be diagnosed, but its cause from an infection of Lyme’s Disease is often missed. Therefore these patients never get properly treated.

      The other symptoms that can be caused by Lyme’s Disease are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that Lyme’s Disease is the new “Great Imitator” among diseases. Formerly, syphilis had this designation. Both are caused by a type of bacteria called a spirochete.

      Even when Lyme’s Disease is correctly diagnosed, it is often resistant to conventional treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics are often ineffective, poorly tolerated, and may make the Lyme’s Disease worse by driving the bacteria into resistant forms.

      Dr. Shandor Weiss’ natural Lyme’s Disease care has led to complete recovery with all patients who followed his recommendations. He uses effective botanical antibiotics, but more importantly, he diagnoses and treats defects in each patient’s immune system. Once the immune system is treated properly, patients often recover even without prescription or natural antibiotics. Here are 3 cases that illustrate how Dr. Weiss treats Lyme’s Disease. The cases have been made up, based on real cases, to protect the identity of actual patients:

      Case 1: One year of antibiotics didn’t help the patient’s joint pains. But the patient’s immune system was depressed due to being on a low protein diet. With diet changes and natural immune medicines the patient recovered fully.

      Case 2: Neurologic symptoms from Lyme’s Disease were no better after 2 years of antibiotics. The patient recovered fully without antibiotics after Dr. Shandor Weiss detoxed the patient of pesticides, which had been depressing the immune system.

      Case 3: Joint pains from Lyme’s Disease did not respond to natural antibiotics until Dr. Shandor Weiss diagnosed and treated chronic stress from grief and loss of sleep. These were treated with homeopathy, glandular therapy and natural sleep aides. After the stress and sleep problems were resolved, treatment with botanical medicines cured the Lyme’s Disease.

      If you or someone you know has Lyme’s Disease, or any symptoms or condition that has not yet been diagnosed properly, please see Dr. Shandor Weiss for help. Although Dr. Weiss has a general practice of natural medicine, he is an expert in the diagnosis, treatment and cure of Lyme’s Disease.

      Copyright 2007 by Dr. Shandor Weiss. All rights reserved.


      That May Be Diagnosed or Undiagnosed

      Here, from medical journals, newspapers, magazines, and clinical and epidemiological studies, are prime symptoms of the illness:

      1. Rash at bite site or other sites
      2. Muscle twitching of the face or other areas
      3. Unexplained fevers, sweats, chills
      4. Headache
      5. Fatigue
      6. Neck creaks and cracks, neck stiffness, neck pain
      7. Unexplained weight change (loss or gain)
      8. Tingling, numbness, burning, stabbing sensations
      9. Unexplained hair loss
      10 Facial paralysis
      11. Swollen glands
      12. Eyes/vision: loss of vision, double, blurry, pain, increased floaters
      13. Sore throat
      14. Ears/hearing: buzzing, ringing, ear pain
      15. Testicular pain/pelvic pain
      16. Dizziness, poor balance
      17. Increased motion sickness
      18. Unexplained menstrual irregularity light-headedness, wooziness, difficulty walking
      19. Unexplained milk production (lactation)
      20. Tremors
      21. Irritable bladder or bladder dysfunction
      22. Disturbed sleep
      23. Sexual dysfunction or loss of libido
      24. Confusion, difficulty in thinking
      25. Upset stomach or change in bowel function
      26. Difficulty with concentration or reading
      27. Chest pain or rib soreness
      28. Forgetfulness, poor short-term memory
      29. Shortness of breath, cough
      30. Difficulty with speech
      31. Heart palpitations, pulse skips, heart block
      32. Joint pain or swelling
      33. Mood swings, irritability, depression
      34. Stiffness of the joints, neck or back
      35. Heart murmur or valve prolapse
      36. Muscle pain or cramps
      37. Exaggerated or worse hangover from alcohol
      38. Paralysis of limb(s), loss of strength, dropping things, loss of balance, numbness in limb(s)

    3. Lymeangl says:

      If you don’t lower your total body of burdens of toxins and pathogens, Lyme disease will always be lingering around ready to raise its ugly head.

      I’m Lyme symptom FREE and have NEVER done antibiotics….I treated entirely using alternative protocols. Diet/Nutrition (NO sugar, NO gluten, NO caffeine, NO fast foods, NO processed foods, NO soda’s, No alcohol and do lots of juicing (I juiced twice daily)….you must make a committment to follow these food guidelines as a start. Also focus on detoxing your body EVERYDAY as everyday you walk out your door you are slammed by 500 plus toxins daily. I took alternative IV’s, antimicrobials, colonics, lymphatic massages, reflexology,and tons of vitamins/herbals/homeopathic remedies. There is more but you get the drift.

      I was diagnosed February 2003 and got an all-clear August 2005. I know that I will always have Lyme & company in my body, but the alternative route is the one I chose. I also battled Cancers during the journey, which I also battled alternatively AND won all 4 battles.

      It can be done, but most folks don’t want to make the committment to clear their bodies of these critters. It is not easy changing your habits and giving up the junk. BUT, you MUST do what you can to “lower your total body burden of pathogens” if you expect to get well. However, when people get sick enough, then perhaps they will do what it takes to get control of this devastating disease.

      Be prepared to herx….just part of the wellness journey.

      Angel Huggzz
      Linda or Angel

    4. naturalboy says:

      and all the others who obstinately claim that Bb doesn’t persist.

      There you have it, it stays in collegen rich tissues, where antibiotics don’t go.

      GOT THAT? I’m so sick of ultri-rightist conservative AMA pawns of insurance companies claiming that lyme is cured with two weeks of doxy, and that further symptoms are psychosomatic.

      Now that this is established, we need something that penetrates these tedons and nerve tissues, and carries some chemo agent to kill them where they live.

      No amount of ‘healthy living’ will protect you, immunity will go down from time to time, and they will be baaak…

    5. 5685d010 says:

      What herbs and vitamins are you using and how much?


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