Lyme borreliosis is a tick-borne infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, whose discovery in 1982 solved an aetiological mystery involving a variety of dermatological and neurological disorders and explained their association with Lyme disease. Lyme borreliosis occurs frequently and is readily treatable with antibiotics. Along with its discovery, however, came the realization that it is difficult to diagnose accurately, especially antibody diagnosis. False-positive antibody results in particular led to gradual widening of the clinical spectrum, and differential diagnosis became increasingly difficult.
This prospective, multicentre study presents a systematic description of Lyme borreliosis in childhood, emphasizing epidemiological and clinical issues. Because, predominantly, inpatients were examined, Lyme neuroborreliosis was the focus of the study, with the chief concern being to minimize false-positive results. To this end, we chose to narrow the diagnostic criteria, using the presence of specific antibodies in the cerebrospinal fluid as the determining factor.
The epidemiological investigation was focused on the incidence of Lyme neuroborreliosis in childhood in southern Lower Saxony as well as on the prevalence of Lyme neuroborreliosis among acute-inflammatory neurological illnesses in children.
The clinical part of the study aimed at establishing criteria for differential diagnosis in addition to the detection of specific antibodies. The detection of specific IgM antibodies using an IgM capture ELISA confirmed the presence of acute Lyme borreliosis.
The study examined 208 children with Lyme borreliosis, of whom 169 had Lyme neuroborreliosis, from mid-1986 until the end of 1989. The yearly incidence of Lyme neuroborreliosis in Lower Saxony was 5.8 cases/100,000 children aged 1 to 13. The manifestation index was 0.16, or one case of Lyme neuroborreliosis per 620 infected children, compared with the presence of specific antibodies against B. burgdorferi for children in the same age group and region.
Both the seasonal distribution of Lyme borreliosis, which peaked in summer and autumn, as well as the information about when the tick bites took place point to an incubation period of a few weeks.
The most frequent manifestation of Lyme neuroborreliosis in childhood was acute peripheral facial palsy, found in 55% of all cases (n = 93).
Lyme borreliosis proved to be the most frequently verifiable cause of acute peripheral facial palsy in children, causing every second case of this disorder in summer and autumn.