‘Any pathogenic micro-organism employing strategies to persist in the body by hiding from, evading, misdirecting or even suppressing immune response, leading to chronic disease or lack of well being.’ Kerry Bone
Stealth pathogens are at the heart of many chronic health conditions. Infection with a pathogen (bacteria, protozoa, mycoplasma, helminth or virus) can be vector-borne (mosquito, tick, sandfly, etc), airborne or transmitted through fluids (water, food, body fluids etc). Once a stealth pathogen has invaded the host it uses strategies to evade the immune system including molecular mimicry and forming biofilms. Not all individuals will develop a chronic condition or illness after infection with a pathogen. The ability to overcome an infection is related to the constitution, health at the time of infection, length of time before treatment is sought and genetic predispositions.
Conditions often associated with stealth pathogens include:
Examples of stealth pathogens include: Bartonella, Babesia, Parvovirus, Mycoplasma, Helicobacter pylori, Epstein-Barr Virus and others
Epstein-Barr virus frequently referred to as EBV, is a member of the herpes virus family and one of the most common human viruses. The virus occurs worldwide, and up to 95% of adults between 35 and 40 years of age have been infected with it. Infants become susceptible to EBV as soon as maternal antibody protection (present at birth) disappears. Many children become infected with EBV, although usually have no symptoms or are indistinguishable from other mild, brief illnesses of childhood. However, when EBV infection occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, it causes the more serious infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever, in 35% to 50% of cases. Mononucleosis is characterised by swollen glands, fever, and commonly spleen enlargement, and profound fatigue that may continue for months or longer.
Lyme disease is caused by a tick-borne bacterium. Borrelia burgdorferi is the microbial organism most commonly associated with Lyme disease, however, other Borrelia species can cause both Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. In the acute stage, Borellia infection and Lyme disease cause fatigue, fever, sweats, rash, swollen glands, headaches and joint pain. Chronic Lyme disease patients can present with a range of symptoms including fatigue, neurological symptoms (e.g. nerve pain, tingling and numbness), musculoskeletal pain or stiffness and symptom pictures that may mimic a range of autoimmune conditions. Many patients suffer from severe and often debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their quality of life. Acute Lyme disease, and its associated flu-like symptoms, usually respond well to short-term antibiotic treatment. However, up to 60% of Lyme patients develop a range of chronic nonspecific symptoms including chronic fatigue, muscle and/or joint pain, neuropathies, and cognitive dysfunction, known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).
Treatment for Stealth Pathogens
Stealth infections can affect multiple body systems and it is common for symptoms to ‘move’. For example, joint pain may be the predominant symptom, then it changes to neuralgia and fatigue, then extreme irritability, insomnia and/or depression. Hence, treatment strategies need to have a multipronged approach and are chosen based on the individual and their symptoms. Core strategies utilise dietary modification, herbal medicines, nutrients and lifestyle changes.
Key factors to address in treatment include:
- Improving the immune response and eliminating persisting pathogen/s
- Supporting key endocrine responses (e.g. adrenal, thyroid) where indicated
- Enhancing mitochondrial function and supporting energy production
- Reducing microbial load in cases of gut dysbiosis
- Break down of biofilms* (enabling the immune system to attack stealth pathogens)
- Reducing inflammation, including neuroinflammation (poor memory, brain fog, neuralgia, depression)
Following are examples of treatments used:
- Herbal Medicines: Qing Hao, Myrrh, Golden Seal, Sarsaparilla, Cat’s Claw, Rehmannia, Bacopa, Boswellia, Echinacea, Garlic, Wormwood, Oregano, Turmeric, Devil’s Claw, Rosemary, Ginkgo, St John’s Wort, Andrographis and others
- Nutrients: Selenium, Iodine, Vitamin D3, Activated B Vitamins, Zinc, Vitamin C, Magnesium and others
- Probiotics: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG), L. paracasei (LP-33), L. Plantarum (299v), Bifidobacterium lactis (BB-12) and others
- Binders: Charcoal, diatomaceous earth, pectin, high tannin teas and others
- Diet: Anti-inflammatory diet, Identify food intolerances, low alcohol and caffeine, minimise processed foods
This information is not intended to replace medical advice. Dosages of herbal medicines must be prescribed by a qualified health professional.
* Stealth pathogens are bacteria and viruses capable of adapting to avoid (and hide) from our immune system. They can form biofilms which effectively ‘shield’ them from our immune system. In chronic health conditions, breaking down biofilms is a key strategy in supporting the body to recover and heal.