A debate over Lyme disease treatment

    Pennsylvania lawmakers are debating a bill designed to educate state residents about the tick-borne illness Lyme disease. The state’s largest doctors group says the proposal goes too far and endorses a controversial treatment.

    Pennsylvania lawmakers are debating a bill designed to educate state residents about the tick-borne illness Lyme disease. The state’s largest doctors group says the proposal goes too far and endorses a controversial treatment.
    (Photo: Flickr/s p e x)

    Chronic Lyme Disease — or post-Lyme Syndrome — sometimes plagues patients for years after standard treatment with antibiotics.

    Doctors debate whether the tick-borne bacteria that causes the disease is also responsible for problems that persist after an initial treatment with antibiotics.

    Millersburg resident Clark Nicholson had joint aches, stabbing muscle pain and brain fog that made it difficult to read.

    Nicholson: You’ll end up going to this specialist, that specialist, this one after the other, and you’ll treat symptom after symptom after symptom, and still not get to the root of the problem.

    Nicholson says he’s getting relief with aggressive and prolonged antibiotic treatment. But that approach is controversial.

    Lyme Disease distribution in 2008. Click to enlarge (Chart: CDC)
    Lyme Disease distribution in 2008. Click to enlarge. (Chart: CDC)
    Nicholson: The doctors feel that treating with long-term antibiotics is dangerous, not only for individuals, but for the population. I’m not disagreeing with that, I’m not saying it doesn’t carry some risks. What I am saying is that I had no life.

    Officials with the Pennsylvania Medical Society oppose the legislation. Society Vice President Scot Chadwick is worried that it endorses long-term antibiotic therapy.

    Chadwick: That’s a dangerous precedent for the General Assembly to be getting into the business of statutorily protecting or endorsing individual treatment protocols. Every time the science changes and new treatments or pharmaceuticals are discovered, they are going to have to go back and amend the statute.

    Chadwick says the bill pushes for prolonged antibiotic treatment just when many doctors are using those drugs more sparingly to prevent the creation of “superbugs” that are resistant to traditional treatment.

    Bill supporters say the legislation only puts insurers and doctors on notice that prolonged treatment is a viable option.

    Nicholson declined to name his doctor or other Lyme specialists who prescribe long-term antibiotic therapy, he says patients are protective of their providers, who have sometimes become targets for ridicule.

    The number of Lyme disease cases in Pennsylvania has increased every year over the past five, and the illness is most prevalent in the southeastern part of the Commonwealth.

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