Lyme disease affects at least 300,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some researchers claim this estimate is low due to Lyme disease being misdiagnosed for conditions that mimic its symptoms.
The CDC recommends blood or serological testing to determine if someone has Lyme disease. A two-step testing process includes the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the Western Blot.
Typically, the ELISA is given first. Many doctors will not recommend taking the Western Blot if the results are negative for Lyme disease. However, if the ELISA results are positive, they will recommend the Western Blot to confirm the diagnosis. Keep reading to learn more about ELISA vs Western Blot.
ELISA vs Western Blot: How They Work
When you contract bacteria or antigens that can lead to an infection, your immune system detects them. It produces antibodies, which bind to the antigens and remove them from your body. When testing with the ELISA, your blood containing antigens is paired with antibodies. If Lyme bacteria is present, the antibodies will bind to them. A serum is added to the mix that changes colors when binding occurs.
If binding occurs, your test results will be positive, and you will be given the Western Blot test.
The Western Blot also tests for Lyme disease antibodies but goes one step further by testing ten proteins found in Lyme disease. The serums used will separate the proteins so they can be identified. At least five of the ten proteins must be reactive to be considered a positive result.
Using the Western Blot as the first test seems more logical since it tests for more bacteria. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to do so, even if you must pay part of the fee. A better solution may be to seek a diagnosis from a Lyme disease specialist who doesn’t rely only on these two tests.
ELISA vs Western Blot: Advantages
The ELISA and Western Blot have some similar benefits, along with differences. As reported in the Journal of Natural Medicines, an analysis of the ELISA was performed and found the benefits include the following:
- It is an easy test to perform.
- The antigen-antibody reaction is easily recognized.
- It does not involve radioactive substances or solvents.
- There are multiple types of ELISA.
- It offers quick results.
The Western Blot’s advantages are as follows:
- It tests for antigens against an infection.
- It is a simple procedure.
- It uses electrophoresis to identify and separate proteins.
- It is mixed with an enzyme that changes color, noting infection.
Although the ELISA and Western Blot are the current go-to tests in America, there are better tests out there and being used by Lyme disease specialists or Lyme-literate doctors. Newer, advanced testing methods are needed because the recommended tests have many disadvantages.
ELISA vs Western Blot: Disadvantages
There are advantages and disadvantages to almost everything these days. However, the disadvantages are not always equal in importance. For example, some people may find paying $125 for a Lyme disease test outrageous, while others may see it as an inexpensive way to get results. It is crucial to research the tests your doctor wants to perform, including their disadvantages, to see if they apply to your situation.
The ELISA and Western Blot do not offer doctors the ability to do the following:
- Determine how many infection proteins are present in your blood.
- Searching for a specific protein cannot occur if primary proteins are unavailable.
- Testing can take several hours to perform.
- Tests are not always accurate and may give false results.
- Requires highly trained staff to avoid accidental false results.
- Testing equipment can be expensive.
More on False Test Results
The ELISA and Western Blot tests are not always accurate. If the tests are given in the first few weeks after being bitten by an infected deer tick, tests can miss up to 60% of positive Lyme disease cases. The reason is that both tests require Lyme antibodies to be present to receive a positive result. Unfortunately, the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria associated with Lyme disease do not always produce antibodies.
Lyme bacteria antibodies often go undetected for the following reasons:
- The body doesn’t start producing antibodies until after you’ve had Lyme disease for a month or longer. Some tests are given too soon.
- Lyme bacteria will go inactive when not replicating and spreading through the body. They can easily hide in tissues and cells.
- Lyme bacteria build biofilms, like bubbles of protection, surrounding bacteria so they are not detected, and nothing can bind to them.
- Co-infections are often transmitted alongside Lyme bacteria and cause the same devastating symptoms.
There is one sure way to avoid receiving false test results. Work with a Lyme-literate doctor who can accurately diagnose your symptoms using alternative testing methods.
Alternative Lyme Disease Tests
The more researchers learn about Lyme disease, the harder they work to create better testing methods. They aim to assist people in getting the correct diagnosis as soon as possible so they do not suffer unnecessarily. Their hard work is paying off with tests like the following:
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
PCR makes it easier to identify the DNA of Lyme bacteria that Lyme-literate doctors can analyze to determine if an infection is present.
Live Blood Analysis
Your doctor will take a small amount of blood and examine it under a microscope, looking for the signs of bacteria.
Cerebral Spinal Fluid Analysis (CSF)
Your brain and spinal cord are surrounded by protective fluid. A sample of this fluid is removed and analyzed for proteins and sugars associated with Lyme disease. It can also tell a doctor if you have any severe effects from Lyme disease, such as encephalitis, meningitis, or neuro-borreliosis.
How to Sign Up for Alternative Testing
If you have symptoms that are not improving after treatments prescribed by your local doctor, or if you have symptoms and want to know more about them, contact our Lyme-literate specialist. Set up an appointment and start seeing improvements in your health.