Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lyme Disease Diagnosis

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Category: Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, objective physical findings (such as erythema migrans, facial palsy, or arthritis), and a history of possible exposure to infected ticks. Validated laboratory tests can be very helpful but are not generally recommended when a patient has erythema migrans.

When making a diagnosis of Lyme disease, health care providers should consider other diseases that may cause similar illness. Not all patients with Lyme disease will develop the characteristic bulls-eye rash, and many may not recall a tick bite. Laboratory testing is not recommended for persons who do not have symptoms of Lyme disease.

Laboratory Testing for Lyme Disease

Several forms of laboratory testing for Lyme disease are available, some of which have not been adequately validated. Most recommended tests are blood tests that measure antibodies made in response to the infection. These tests may be falsely negative in patients with early disease, but they are quite reliable for diagnosing later stages of disease.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a two-step process when testing blood for evidence of Lyme disease. Both steps can be done using the same blood sample.

  1. The first step uses an ELISA or IFA test. These tests are designed to be very “sensitive,” meaning that almost everyone with Lyme disease, and some people who don’t have Lyme disease, will test positive. If the ELISA or IFA is negative, it is highly unlikely that the person has Lyme disease, and no further testing is recommended. If the ELISA or IFA is positive or indeterminate (sometimes called “equivocal”), a second step should be performed to confirm the results.
  2. The second step uses a Western blot test. Used appropriately, this test is designed to be “specific,” meaning that it will usually be positive only if a person has been truly infected. If the Western blot is negative, it suggests that the first test was a false positive, which can occur for several reasons. Sometimes two types of Western blot are performed, “IgM” and “IgG.” Patients who are positive by IgM but not IgG should have the test repeated a few weeks later if they remain ill. If they are still positive only by IgM and have been ill longer than one month, this is likely a false positive.

The CDC does not recommend testing blood by Western blot without first testing it by ELISA or IFA. Doing so increases the potential for false positive results. Such results may lead to patients being treated for Lyme disease when they don’t have it and not getting appropriate treatment for the true cause of their illness.

Other Types of Laboratory Testing for Lyme Disease

Some laboratories offer Lyme disease testing using assays whose accuracy and clinical usefulness have not been adequately established. These tests include urine antigen tests, immunofluorescent staining for cell wall-deficient forms of Borrelia burgdorferi, and lymphocyte transformation tests. In general, the CDC does not recommend these tests. Patients are encouraged to ask their physicians whether their testing for Lyme disease was performed using validated methods and whether results were interpreted using appropriate guidelines.

Testing Ticks for Lyme Disease

Patients who have removed a tick often wonder if they should have it tested. In general, the identification and testing of individual ticks is not useful for deciding if a person should get antibiotics following a tick bite. Nevertheless, some state or local health departments offer tick identification and testing as a community service or for research purposes. Check with your health department; the phone number is usually found in the government pages of the telephone book.

Source: CDC

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