The Dangers of Misdiagnosing MS and Lyme Disease
Italian researchers, Trojano and Paolicelli (2001) observed the rate of misdiagnosis for MS as 5-10% and listed the infectious conditions that were sometimes confused with MS as: Lyme disease, syphilis, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, HTLV-1 infection, herpes zoster, along with several inflammatory conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren’s syndrome, vasculitis, sarcoidosis, and Behçet’s disease. Trojano and Paolicelli also note that other conditions were sometimes mistaken for MS, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency, lysosomal disorders, adrenoleukodystrophy, mitochondrial disorders, cancer of the central nervous system, and spinal diseases. The lesions found in such conditions may appear very similar on MRI scans and cause similar symptoms making it extremely important to ascertain their cause prior to administering immunomodulatory drugs or other treatments. Todorovic (et al, 2008) detailed the presence of bilateral retrobulbar optic neuritis as a first sign of Lyme disease, with similar visual disturbances often classified as the first demyelinating event (FDE) in Multiple Sclerosis cases.
Infections Mistaken for MS – It’s Not Just Lyme Disease
A decade later, it appears that the differentiation of MS from Lyme disease and other infections and illnesses remains problematic. Brinar and Habek (2010) note that several infectious diseases are still being mistaken for MS including Whipple’s disease, Lyme disease, Syphilis, HIV/AIDS, Brucellosis, HHV-6 infection, Hepatitis C, Mycoplasma and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (the human form of ‘Mad Cow’ disease), amongst others. These researchers are also careful to observe that Bartonella, Rickettsia, and Leptospirosis may also result in symptoms similar to those of MS which can make Lyme disease and its common co-infections even more difficult for a physician to recognize and treat. Brinar and Habek, along with numerous other clinicians, stress that atypical clinical and diagnostic imaging presentations should prompt a physician to carry out serological testing to rule out the possibility of an infectious disease, such as Lyme disease, that may mimic MS.
Treating Misdiagnosed MS
Patients diagnosed with MS should be cautious however not to cease treatment for their diagnosed condition without sound medical reason and under the supervision of a qualified physician. One report of a vulnerable MS patient details how she stopped treatment for MS and began a bizarre therapeutic regime under the guidance of a San Jose man who claimed to be a doctor but who had no medical licence and very little medical knowledge. The phony physician, Eugen Vasin, allegedly charged Ronelle Kotter $300/hr for treatments, some of which are contraindicated in both MS and Lyme disease, such as soaking in a hot tub and, oddly, eating watermelon. Kotter died following such treatment as she was advised by Vasin that she had Lyme disease not MS and that she should reduce her current medications and start injections of vitamin B12 and hot-tub treatments instead. The woman’s family eventually reported Vasin to the police and he awaits prosecution along with a number of others involved in Lyme disease quackery.
Other patients diagnosed with MS have accumulated huge debts paying for treatments for the condition only to be told they were misdiagnosed and actually have a curable Lyme disease infection. Where patients do not have insurance to cover the expense of testing, it may be that a false negative is the only information a physician has to go on and this will, in almost all cases, lead to the ruling out of Lyme disease as a differential diagnosis for MS.
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