Does chronic Lyme Disease really exist? Are long-term antibiotics helpful to patients who think they have chronic Lyme Disease? Even if chronic Lyme Disease exists, do I really risk my license and reputation to treat it? These are all questions doctors must answer when diagnosing patients who believe they suffer from chronic Lyme Disease. May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to do some extra reading about Lyme Disease in order to continue to protect yourself from the disease.
No diagnostic test is available that will confirm Lyme Disease 100% of the time. The blood tests used now to confirm the presence of the disease do not confirm the bacteria themselves are present. What they confirm is that the patient’s immune system has developed antibodies to fight the bacteria. When antibodies are detected in the patient’s blood, doctors don’t know if the disease is present or not. Perhaps only the antibodies remained longer we expected. This is one of the issues doctors and patients struggle with in determining the presence of chronic Lyme Disease.
Dr. Allen Steere, a Massachusetts General Hospital rheumatologist began studying what was later termed Lyme Disease in 1975. The high incidence of children diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis around Lyme, CT first drew his attention. Dr. Steere, now 70, has co-authored more than 300 professional articles on Lyme Disease. He has been at the center of the controversy between doctors and chronic Lyme Disease patients. Dr. Steere’s work has helped establish diagnostic and treatment guidelines for doctors, as set forth by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Dr. Steere’s research and these guidelines do not acknowledge the existence of chronic Lyme Disease. His lifetime of work was recently discussed in a Boston Globe online story titled, Drawing the Lines in the Lyme Disease Battle.
Doctors following the guidelines of the Infectious Diseases Society adhere to the belief that antibiotics given for two to four weeks will effectively treat Lyme Disease. Dr. Steere agrees that 25% of those treated will continue to have symptoms post-treatment. These continued patient symptoms, often debilitating, continue to have no research-based link to Lyme Disease.
Research is ongoing and progressing very slowly, in part due to limited funding. Despite doctors seeing how long-term antibiotics help many chronic sufferers, lack of treatment guidelines make insurance companies unwilling to pay for such treatment. Despite the disagreements between doctors and patients, five state legislatures including Massachusetts passed bills to protect doctors in prescribing antibiotics for chronic Lyme Disease.
So what should know in Lyme Disease Awareness Month? Perhaps tick safety best practices and staying informed about research in treatment should be at the center of our awareness. This blog is focused solely on Lyme Disease in Central Mass and will have the most current updates to educate Central Mass residents about Lyme Disease.
We also urge you to consider a perimeter tick spray around your home. Experts recommend perimeter sprays as one important step in tick safety best practices. Our yards are where we spend most of our time outdoors. It only makes sense to reduce our exposure in our own yards for the best protection against Lyme Disease.