Can Lyme disease lead to violence, even murder?

This question has come up twice in the past month. First in the case of Travis, the chimpanzee, which mauled a woman in Connecticut. It was reported that he was suffering from the tick-borne illness and that it was either the disease itself or the medication he was taking that caused the chimp, once a star of TV commercials, to snap.

And now, the disease is being blamed for causing the mental illness of a man accused of gunning down a pastor Sunday at a suburban Illinois church.

Police did not release the gunman's name, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported late Sunday that he is 27-year-old Terry Joe Sedlacek. Sedlacek’s mother said Lyme disease attacked her son’s brain and caused the psychosis that caused him to kill the pastor and wound two others. FOX News could not immediately confirm the report.

Sedlacek was reportedly taking several medications to combat Lyme disease and seizures, which nearly killed him in 2003, the paper reported.

Although the disease has been associated with mental illness, the link between Lyme disease and violence is largely unproven, said one doctor.

“Chronic Lyme disease can be associated with seizures, depression, anxiety and even psychosis has been reported,” said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist and FOX News Channel contributor.

“It’s possible, but the problem is, something being reported doesn’t always mean it’s the cause. For example, someone may have psychosis or seizures — but Lyme disease may not be the cause — so you have to be really careful.”

The fact is that Lyme disease is very tricky.

“Determining whether Lyme disease is the cause of a related factor is the art of medicine," Siegel said. “It’s not an automatic — it depends on the case.”

Siegel told FOXNews.com that he would actually like to see the medical records of Sedlacekto to see if psychosis is even a possibility.

“It would depend on if the person has chronic Lyme disease,” he said. “You would have to look at medical records to see when he was treated and diagnosed and to see if this is even a possibility. The key question here is whether this guy ever received proper treatment early on.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which normally lives in mice, squirrels, deer and other small animals. It is transmitted among these animals — and to humans — through the bites of certain species of ticks.

Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York all have high rates of Lyme disease. The culprit in the Northeast is the deer tick. In the Pacific coast, the disease is spread by the western-black legged tick.

Signs and Symptoms:

— A very pronounced round, red rash that spreads at the site of the bite

— Flu-like symptoms

— Fatigue

— Headaches

— Sore muscles and joints

— Fever


If you have early-stage Lyme disease, oral antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil are most often prescribed. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown that most patients can be cured within a few weeks of taking these drugs.

But if it goes untreated, Lyme disease can lead to serious health problems.

According to the Mayo Clinic, those problems include:

— Chronic joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis), particularly of the knee

— Neurological symptoms, such as facial palsy and neuropathy

— Cognitive defects, such as impaired memory

— Heart rhythm irregularities

— Memory loss

— Difficulty concentrating

— Changes in mood or sleep habits

Click here to find out how you can avoid getting bitten by a tick.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.