Lyme disease is the fastest-spreading tick-borne disease in the United States. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 38,500 new cases in 2009, but acknowledge that they greatly under-count the number of cases, estimating that only one in ten cases is reported, putting the number of actual cases occurring annually at around 300,000. Notably, Lyme Disease has been reported in every single state in the United States!People contract Lyme disease from the bite of an infected tick. Many patients, but certainly not all, have a bulls-eye rash associated with their tick bite, which is an early warning to seek medical treatment. When diagnosed early and treated aggressively, antibiotic treatment can cure the infection. Other cases require a longer duration of antibiotic therapy.Unfortunately, even patients who heed the rash alert, do not always receive correct medical advice for several reasons. Among reasons for misdiagnoses are:
Medical studies suggest that Lyme Disease imitates symptoms of many serious other conditions; e.g., multiple sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, lupus, Parkinsons’, and Alzheimer’s. Confusion with these diseases, plus Lyme disease’s association with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, concentration and memory problems further obstructs accurate diagnosis.
Diagnostic tests are notoriously unreliable resulting in false negative tests. Doctors commonly adopt a 2-tiered approach to testing, so that if the first tier test, the Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), results are negative, further testing with the more specific and more accurate a more specific laboratory technique, known as immunoblotting, is used. In the case of Lyme, it is the Western blot, which identifies specific antibody proteins.
Further impeding both accurate diagnosis and treatment, are ongoing controversies regarding persistent Lyme disease within the medical community. Commonly, misdiagnoses delay proper treatment, which has proved to be seriously detrimental to patient health.
Symptoms: When the Lyme infection persists, the original vague flu-like symptoms are often replaced with a myriad of issues that can include Bell’s palsy, sore, swollen joints, body aches, pain and severe headaches, swollen lymph nodes, cognitive impairment, and many debilitating neurological and cardiologic problems. When symptoms are not fully resolved after a short course of antibiotics, patients and their doctors commonly face increasing frustration. To attempt to address these persisting symptoms, often referred to as “post-Lyme syndrome,” some doctors prescribe symptomatic relief, including painkillers and anti-depressants which do little to address the core problem of an ongoing infection.
Manypractitioners have documented excellent, long-term results and a return to healthy functioning from extended antibiotic use. Other practitioners report that their patients improve with extended antibiotic therapy, only to relapse when treatment is withdrawn. They believe that this is evidence that Lyme disease is a persistent infection that can elude standard courses of antibiotics.The medical community’s division over the cause and cure of persistent Lyme symptoms illustrates the indisputable and immediate need for unbiased research. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) organized a workshop in an effort begin the process of resolving these vital, complex issues. Workshop proceedings will soon be available. At this workshop, science journalist and author, Pam Weintraub, noted, “If we are ever to unravel the mysteries of Lyme disease and find a cure, it is science – pure and unadulterated – that will lead us home.”
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