Wednesday, October 15, 2008



Lyme disease is an infectious illness caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgordferi. (A spirochete is a slender bacteria that undulates in a spiral shape.) Symptoms of the disease range from fatigue and insomnia to joint pain, impaired mental function and even Bell’s palsey-like paralysis.


The Center for Disease Control reports that 7.9 per 100,000 people suffer from Lyme disease in the United States, although the actual number is probably much higher, since the illness is commonly misdiagnosed. My story, with four years of misdiagnosis and two and a half more years before I found proper treatment, is not unusual.

Many people also believe that Lyme disease is only found in New England, or at least only on the East Coast. This is not true. Lyme disease has been reported in 49 of the 50 states.


Lyme disease is carried by deer, mice, or other small mammals, and spread to humans via ticks bites. It is possible that there are other, unknown means of transmission, since only fifty percent of Lyme sufferers remember receiving a tick bite.

A large, circular rash in a bull’s-eye pattern around the tick bite is a sign of Lyme disease, however absense of such a rash does not mean there is no Lyme infection. (I did not get a rash from my tick bite.)


Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. When caught early, a thirty day course of antibiotics usually brings about a successful cure. President George W. Bush was treated for Lyme disease this way, as was a friend of my family’s who was bitten by a tick in the same area where I was.
When the illness is misdiagnosed and becomes chronic, thirty days of antibiotics is usually not enough. Even if the patient recovers from short treatment, relapse is likely. A small but growing number of doctors have come to believe that longer courses of high-dose antibiotics are necessary. The treatment can last up to three years in some cases. These doctors report a 90 percent recovery rate in patients with chronic Lyme.


There is an acrimonious controversy in the medical world over long-term antibiotics for Lyme disease. The group of doctors advocating and researching this treatment approach has its own association, ILADS (International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society) . The opposing camp, IDSA (Infectious Disease Society of America), dismisses the idea of chronic Lyme and does not recommend long-term antibiotics to treat Lyme. The dispute between these two groups and their allies is long and bitter, with most of the medical establishment and the insurance industry siding with IDSA, and patients with chronic Lyme siding with ILADS.

I am one such patient, and I would like to attest that after one year, having only partially completed my course of treatment, I am able to do much, much more than I could before I began the antibiotics. These are results that I simply could not obtain before going on antibiotics, despite a myriad of other treatments.

A fellow blogger, Joe, has written a first-hand account the failure of short-term antibiotics and the difficulty of encountering doctors who were skeptical or ignorant about a more effective treatment. You can read about what he went through here.

The controversy is truly unfortunate, not only becuause it prevents doctors from considering all treatment options, but also because it impedes medical investigation and discourages young researchers from going into the field.


An excellent book on the history of Lyme disease and the controversy surrounding it is Bull’s Eye by Jonathan A. Edlow.

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