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Lyme Disease In Horses

Lyme disease is unfortunately a common condition affecting not only horses and pets, but also a major health problem for people.  The disease is actually associated with a type of bacteria or spirochete, Borrellia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by either the deer tick, the blacklegged tick or the sheep tick, when feeding on the host.  The ticks are very small in size and often go undetected, but rates of infection can often times be very high dependent on geography with the northeast United States being the highest region.  The highest rates of infection generally occur from May to July due to the ticks being more active during this time. The rates of infection actually correlate with deer populations as the white tailed deer are the host for the adult stages of the tick.

Lyme Disease in the Horse
Lyme Disease in the Horse

Clinical Signs:
Clinical signs of Lyme disease vary and often involve multiple organ systems and can be general in nature.  In humans, often there is a skin rash which develops then progresses to joint involvement, muscular pain and further progression.  In horses, clinical signs can range from non-specific lameness, muscle pain, fever, overall lethargy, laminitis, joint pain and swelling as well as other clinical problems.  Meningitis is also a potential outcome in all cases as the parasite can enter the central nervous system in some instances.

Borrelia burgdorferi strongly activates an inflammatory response in the host by triggering many type of cells involved in the immune response.  This activation leads to the release of many pro-inflammatory proteins (TNF, Interleukins) which contribute to ongoing pain, stiffness, myalgia as well as tissue deterioration, such as in joints.

The diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult in some instances.  In humans, the skin rash is generally readily apparent and aids in the diagnosis, but is not commonly obvious in animals. In most instances, general blood work is performed to rule out other likely conditions as well as a performing antibody titers for Lyme’s.  Often, when the disease is active, there will be a significant rise in antibody levels when performing paired serum titers 1-2 weeks apart.  In other instances, serum levels may just be persistently elevated in chronic cases.  Response to treatment is also commonly used as current diagnostics may prove uncertain or definitive.

Treatment of Lyme disease generally involves the use of tetracycline based antibiotics, twice daily, intravenously or orally for extended periods.  Response to the antibiotics can be very rapid in some cases, while in some it may result in slight worsening of clinical signs while the parasite is being killed off.  In other cases, the response to the antibiotics may be marginal or only partial, with relapses in the future.  It is difficult to determine the actual response rate to antibiotics but they are almost always used as a line of primary treatment.

Outcome and Persistence of Disease:
Lyme disease is increasing in prevalence in humans as well as animals, likely due to uncontrolled deer populations and exposure.  Treatment of Lyme disease often is disappointing and infections may persist for months to years, leading to prolonged pain and clinical problems for the patient.  The lack of complete response to antibiotics suggests that the spirochete has a way of hiding or evading antibiotic exposure or by evading the immune response.  Borrelia burgdorferi has been known to have many stages of development within the host, with some stages more susceptible to antibiotics than others.  B. burgdorferi can also actually invade various cells intracellularly, which allows them to directly evade immune detection as well and be protected in a sense.  Through these methods, B. burgdorferi can continue to cause clinical problems through activation of pro-inflammatory proteins for years.  Vaccines are not available at this time, but some have been developed with promising results.  The best method of reducing the incidence is by reducing the deer population as well as protecting yourself, your horses and pets from tick exposure by using repellents.

Options for Therapy:
We have had several horses with diagnosed Lyme’s disease with elevated serum titers respond very well to our Cur-OST line of products.  The majority of these horses not only demonstrated a reduction in serum antibody titers over 3-4 months but also dramatically improved clinically with reduced lameness, lethargy and overall enhancement of life quality.  Most of these horses were currently or had been treated with tetracycline antibiotics.  We need more targeted therapy to support health and help the host defenses.

In most instances, we have used a combination of products, Cur-OST EQ Total Support and our Cur-OST EQ Immune formula.  The theory in use of these formulas is to approach and direct our attention at the inflammatory response, reducing inflammatory proteins at a cellular level, impacting digestive health, and provide potent antioxidants to combat oxidative stress.  By managing these factors, we can improve the patient clinically as well as potentially reduce cellular damage inflicted by constant inflammation and free radicals.  Pain is reduced, fever is reduced and health is restored in less than 30 days in most reports.  The EQ Immune Full Spectrum provides potent levels of concentrated mushroom beta-glucans which help to modulate the immune response, in theory reducing an overactive immune response or enhancing an underactive one, which is often a root problem in many Lyme cases in the horse.

The recoveries reported by our customers as well as seen in some of  patients can be remarkable with reduction of antibody titers and restoration of performance.  Nothing is 100%, but in cases of Lyme’s disease that are non-responsive to antibiotics or those that have relapses, it is essential to try a new approach!  In essence, with this approach, we are not so much targeting the disease but actually just restoring health and balance, which allows the opportunity for the body to heal and recover.

Options are available for Lyme’s disease support and management.  Do not give up on these patients as they can be restored in many instances.

All our best,

Tom Schell, D.V.M.
Nouvelle Research, Inc. 

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