Don’t get ticked — MS may actually be bug-borne bacteria: researcher

A Winnipeg researcher says some Manitobans diagnosed with multiple sclerosis may actually have symptoms of bug-borne bacteria.

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg researcher says some Manitobans diagnosed with multiple sclerosis may actually have symptoms of bug-borne bacteria.

Kathleen Crang says borrelia bacteria are carried by ticks and are the same ones that cause Lyme disease.

Tests for Lyme disease can be unreliable and many of the disease’s 75 known symptoms mimic other nerve conditions.

Case studies have even found that Lyme disease can produce lesions on the brain like those seen in people with MS.

Crang wonders whether doctors may be misdiagnosing MS in Manitoba because Lyme disease is thought to be rare in the province.

Manitoba has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the country.

“If I knew someone with MS, I’d be saying, ’Let’s look at those questions,”’ said Crang. “If their MS is coupled with heart problems or skin rashes or rheumatological involvement, there might be some question as to why.”

Crang’s research has found numerous reports in Europe and the United States of Lyme disease initially being misdiagnosed as everything from MS to ALS to fibromyalgia.

And maybe, she suggests, doctors in Manitoba may not be on the lookout for Lyme disease.

“There’s a bit of a disconnect there. It’s an information-flow problem. The fact that individuals are hearing such low numbers of Lyme leads to a perception that Lyme isn’t there.”

In a series of interviews for her thesis, Crang found that many of Manitoba’s public health decision-makers and clinicians didn’t perceive Lyme disease as a threat and “did not expect they would see patients with the disease.”

Crang, 44, is living proof that the mistake can be made.

In 1999, doctors told the high school science teacher that she had multiple sclerosis.

An MRI appeared to confirm the diagnosis. But some unusual symptoms such as joint pain pushed her to investigate her sudden sickness.

Six months after being diagnosed with MS, Crang learned she didn’t have it after all. A successful antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease followed.

“I am so grateful for the questions I asked when I became ill. If one person (diagnosed with) MS is actually able to walk away from MS (because of this work), it would be wonderful.”

To reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, Crang has a relatively low-cost and low-risk suggestion — doctors should try antibiotics first to see if a patient recovers from symptoms that could be brought on by Lyme disease.

The borrelia bacteria cause a distinctive rash as they die.

“What is there to lose? People are living with such serious chronic conditions. If there’s a possibility they do have a Lyme infection, does that not warrant some kind of trial?”