Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Disease
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The bacteria which causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, was discovered in 1982. Although 24 years have passed since this discovery, we still lack accurate testing and live with controversy in the medical field over the diagnosis, symptoms and treatment of this devastating illness.
Many mistakenly believe that Lyme disease is definitively diagnosed by a simple blood test. In fact, the standard blood tests used to test for Lyme disease have been shown in several studies to produce an unacceptable number of both false negative and false positive results. The College of American Pathologists Proficiency Testing Program has concluded based on its own study that these tests will not be useful as screening tests until their sensitivity is improved.
While developing an accurate Lyme test would be ideal, the diagnosis of Lyme disease could be improved through an increased awareness of the clinical presentation of this disease. It is widely recognized that a bulls-eye rash and joint pain/arthritis are symptomatic of Lyme disease. In spite of extensive research, it is less well known that the Lyme rash is often not in bulls-eye form, that many never develop a rash, and that Lyme can produce psychiatric, cardiac and cognitive symptoms. Clinical observations and preliminary studies suggest many other symptoms may be indicative of Lyme. Further study in this area is critical to improving the clinical recognition of Lyme disease.
A lack of consensus in the medical community regarding the most effective treatment, particularly for chronic cases, adds yet another layer of uncertainty to the understanding of this disease. Among the most important issues in this regard is the long-term use of antibiotics for the treatment of chronic Lyme. One school of thought limits their use to four weeks, while the other supports their use for longer periods when clinically indicated. Quality research in this area has been remarkably sparse, is long overdue, and is a necessary step towards effective treatment.
Lyme disease is more prevalent in some areas, however, ticks carrying the Lyme bacteria have been found in 48 states. In addition, due to frequent travel and relocation in the United States, people in every state are afflicted with this disease. It is imperative that doctors in all states are able to diagnose and treat Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases accurately.
Due to the debilitating nature of the disease, particularly in its chronic form, people are often forced into long periods of leave from work or school; causing financial burdens on Lyme victims, their employers, and taxpayers. Because the disease becomes harder to treat the longer it is allowed to progress, more effective diagnosis will yield shorter treatment times, and lower costs to all involved parties. It is our hope that the passage of this bill will result in significant progress in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.