I was born in 1950; I’ve always been very active. As an adolescent I had recurrent and painful sinusitis; this vanished in my late teens. Amongst my activities I listed caving (spelaeology) which requires some physical fitness. I continued cave exploration until well into my forties.
In 1999 my wife, Sarah, and I both caught a respiratory infection which started off as a sore throat; in a fortnight it had become a mild pneumonia. Sarah developed frank asthma which required a Salbutamol inhaler. I also had a wheeziness, particularly on exertion. This eventually cleared. I also suffered with sinusitis again. I didn’t seek medical advice.
A few months later I began to find turning my head not only painful but difficult. As I cycle to work this grew to be problematic. I found that if I wished to turn right (UK) I had to dismount and walk across the road. At about this time I noticed that I was developing soft-tissue swellings in my neck; these began to grow quite quickly. Shortly after this I found I had myalgia in my shoulders and the long muscles of my back. Sarah noticed that I was walking very awkwardly; if I wished to turn my head I had to turn all my body. Flexion of the spine was difficult, too.
In 2002 I noticed that my resting heart-rate had increased, and there were increasing numbers of dropped beats. These were quite alarming in the dead of night. Sarah noted that my apex beat was really hard and actually audible at night. I was worried by this time, but was more concerned with Sarah’s aggressively advancing MS, which was much more troubling.
By 2003 All my symptoms increased in intensity; they now included constant pleuritic pain (a sharp pain in the side when breathing) on the right. Also there was an exquisitely painful longitudinal white streak along the nail of my left forefinger. I began to feel vertigo when moving suddenly: it was as though I were standing on either side of a small see-saw. My blood pressure was 150/95. I had my blood tested for Chlamydia pneumoniae antibodies; the IF titres were 1:128. This level is seen in many asymptomatic people. Low titres mean little; they certainly don’t exclude the infection. Borrelia antibodies (Western Blot) were negative.
I began a course of empirical antichlamydial treatment; it was very similar to Sarah’s, namely doxycycline 200mg daily and roxithromycin 300mg daily. (it doesn’t matter whether you take all the daily dose at once with these.) That night I felt sweaty and ill; this feeling carried on for five days; it was worse in the evenings, and was accompanied by an odd state of mind. All kinds of visions went through my mind, and Sarah says that I was babbling, changing the subject almost in mid-sentence. But this subsided. After three months I began a short course of metronidazole in addition to doxycycline and roxithromycin. Towards the end of this course I had a rather ominous feeling that something was about to happen. Three weeks later I began another five-day course of metronidazole. On the fourth day I began to feel pain in the muscles of the back of the neck and in the soft tissue swellings to the side of my neck. That evening I began to sweat profusely, and had very strong muscle fasciculations over my torso. These continued for a week or so after stopping the metronidazole; again they reached their peak in the evening, so I was able to work during the day. (Evening fevers seem quite common with resolving intracellular infections.) They were followed by crushing pains in both upper limbs, which I take to be a mild form of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Fortunately these eased within weeks. My weight dropped from 95 to 81 Kilos within a few weeks. Within three months the neck swellings had almost subsided. Reactions to the third pulse of metronidazole were slight. Reactions to the fourth, fifth and sixth were negligible. My blood pressure dropped to a typical morning BP of 115/75; the apex beat became actually quite difficult to feel, and my pulse became very soft and even. All the ectopics had gone.
Now I am on intermittent antibiotics and supplementation; this includes N-acetyl cysteine 600mg twice daily for the purpose of bursting any chlamydial elementary bodies which remain. I still have a little trouble with vertigo and ringing in the ears, but not enough to stop me riding my bicycle. I’m pain-free and supple, and have full movement of my spine and head. There is an impression of ongoing soft-tissue remodelling.
Sarah and I had a similar respiratory infection; she developed frank asthma, and I an intermittent wheeziness. So though I have no hard evidence that we both had an infection with Chl. pneumoniae it seems clinically likely. No other known pathogen causes a respiratory infection after the pattern described. Often this is a clinical diagnosis. We have to accept that, on an individual basis, present-day laboratory tests may have little diagnostic value.
I managed to work full-time during this illness, coming home to cook for us both. We kept our household together. Some of our social friends were alarmed and lost touch, but, well, I don’t suppose they were really friends.
Sarah’s recovery from secondary progressive MS (where recovery is not a part of the natural history of the disease) is recounted elsewhere on this site.
The photo to the left was taken in 2002. Note the soft tissue swelling round the neck; to a lesser extent round the mouth and eyes. The right photo shows a much-changed man in 2005.