The two most common serological or blood tests for Lyme disease are the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the Western blot test. Both tests are considered “indirect” tests, which means that they don’t detect the infecting bacteria or its antigens but rather the antibodies that are produced by an infected person’s body in response to the antigens.
In the case of the Western blot test, antigens are separated by size and then transferred onto a membrane strip which then shows whether or not an antibody reacts to an antigen by turning the strip dark purple. A specific combination of the colored bands is then used to determine a positive test result.
The limitations of the ELISA and Western blot
Unfortunately, Lyme disease is not a one size fits all type of disease. There are multiple species and strains of Lyme and, therefore, tests must be targeted to the various species and strains in order to be able to detect them. If a given test is not capable of detecting a certain species or strain of Lyme then it will produce a false negative result, which can be very dangerous for the patient. In fact, many Lyme Literate Medical Doctors (LLMD) will oftentimes treat patients based on clinical findings (e.g., a rash or types of symptoms) if lab results are returned with a negative result. The feeling is that a course of antibiotics, to see if there are any improvements in symptoms, will not be overly detrimental to the patient.
The IGeneX ImmunoBlot Test
The bottom line is that ELISA and the Western blot tests are not sensitive enough. Fortunately, however, there is a company by the name of IGeneX that has developed a test called the ImmunoBlot test which has proven to be much better at detecting the various species and strains of Lyme.
In one of the company’s own internal studies, a total of 132 patients with a mixture of two species of the bacteria were tested for Lyme disease with both the IGeneX ImmunoBlot test and the traditional Western blot test. Out of the total number of patients, there was a subset of 43 individuals whereby 29 of the of them tested positive with the IGeneX test and only 14 tested positive with the Western blot test. In other words: 29 of the 43 patients tested negative with the Western blot test … and for those 29 people the error could prove to be devastating.
Kathleen’s Lyme doctor, Dr. Thomas Moorcroft, has used the IGeneX ImmunoBlot test to track Kathleen’s progress with her treatments and I could not be more appreciative for the fact that an organization such as IGeneX exists. Because, for those who have only been able to rely on more traditional tests and treatments, the chances of recovery — or even survival — were more or less based on luck!
What Should You Do?
I need to emphasize the fact that I am not a practicing physician or a Lyme researcher. I’m only the father of a daughter who was afflicted with Lyme disease, Bartonella henselae and Babesiosis who has spent a tremendous amount of time learning all that I can so that I can help my daughter get better.
With that said, if you or a loved one is ill then it’s in the best interest of the sufferer or caregiver to learn all that can be learned about Lyme disease and the tests and treatments available so that informed questions (and lots of them) can be asked when seeking help.
I have seen, first-hand, the deleterious effects that the diseases have on their victims, and the only way to fight back is with lots of knowledge and determination.