The short story: Women with Lyme disease display more clinical symptoms than do men with the disease and also are less likely to seroconvert following treatment, according to findings from a prospective cohort study involving 77 patients.
The study revealed the following observations:
- Significantly more women than men reported joint pain, muscle pain, headache, back pain, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, numbness and tingling, and changes in vision during at least one of six preplanned study visits with a physician.
- At the initial study visit, a similar proportion of men and women (about 60% of each) tested negative for Lyme disease using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended two-tier testing criteria for serodiagnosis. At the first post-treatment interview, 70% of women who tested negative at the first pre-treatment visit remained negative, compared with only 35% of the men who initially tested negative.
And see the original source with study here:
SEE page 151 of ICEID 2012 Abstracts
March 11-14, 2012 | Hyatt Regency Atlanta | Atlanta, Georgia
Board 264. Another Difference between Boys and Girls: Sex-Based Differences in Lyme Disease.
L.A. Crowder, A. Rebman, V. Yedlin, M. Soloski, J.N. Aucott; Lyme Disease Research Foundation of Maryland, Lutherville, MD, USA, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.
This isn't the first time, however, that someone observed a difference between men and women's immune responses in relation to Borrelia burgdorferi.
Let's take the time machine back to Sweden, in 2004...
Lyme borreliosis reinfection: might it be explained by a gender difference in immune response?
Sara Jarefors, Louise Bennet, Elin You, Pia Forsberg, Christina Ekerfelt, Johan Berglund, and Jan Ernerudh
This study had a different goal than Ms. Crowder's in that it was intended to measure the difference in immunological response between people of both genders who had only been infected once and those who had been reinfected with Lyme disease within a five year period.
The findings relevant to women in this case:
"...for the immunological response there were major differences between men and women. The women displayed higher spontaneous secretion of all cytokines measured, i.e. IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, IFN-γ and TNF-α. Spontaneous secretion, at an infection-free time-point, reflects the habitual immune status and may suggest what type of immunological defence an individual generally displays. For instance, allergy has been considered a Th2-type related condition and, accordingly, atopic individuals have higher spontaneous IL-4 expression than non-atopic controls.And...
Women of reproductive age are believed to handle infections better than men, having a stronger tendency to show Th1-type responses and expression of higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and they also develop higher antibody titres than men when vaccinated. However, the female immune response fluctuates with the menstrual cycle. In general, oestrogen has a stimulatory effect on the immune system whereas testosterone acts as a suppressor. When women enter the menopause their levels of oestrogen decrease and thereby the stimulatory effect diminishes, leading to an altered immune status. All except one of the women in our study were postmenopausal, and this could be a factor explaining why more women than men became reinfected with B. burgdorferi."
"Serology was not performed on the individuals in this study because, at the time of EM diagnosis, only 30–40% of patients displayed antibodies to Borrelia. Studies following patients with culture-confirmed EM have shown that, although antibodies can be detected 10–20 years after initial infection, titres decline gradually during the first year."A paper which cited the previous one discusses the functions of IL-10 in relationship to Borrelia burgdorferi:
Interleukin-10 alters effector functions of multiple genes induced by Borrelia burgdorferi in macrophages to regulate Lyme disease inflammation.
Gautam A, Dixit S, Philipp MT, Singh SR, Morici LA, Kaushal D, Dennis VA.
To sum it up: IL-10 (an interleukin) which is produced in higher amounts in women than it is in men, is responsible for inhibiting the actions of some genes in Borrelia burgdorferi - but it is also responsible for empowering the actions of some genes, too.
What implication this has on infection in different genders remains to be seen and requires more study.
But what is already known about the role of inflammation in the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi is important to take note of here: Inflammation facilitates Borrelia burgdorferi's adaptation to its host; it stimulates antigenic variation and it leads to increased spirochetal burden in mice. So if this applies to humans: All that pain, swelling, and inflammation patients feel? It is good for the spirochetes, and it is bad for you.
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