Lyme Disease Update

“Study Shows Low Lyme Disease Risk” reads the headline in the Albany Times Union June 13, 2001. Comforting words. “Lyme disease is very difficult to catch, even from a deer tick in a Lyme-infested area, and it can easily be stopped in its tracks with two capsules of an antibiotic, a new study shows. Two other studies..conclude that prolonged and intensive use of antibiotics…does nothing for people with symptoms attributed to chronic Lyme disease. The findings are in keeping with the assertions of researchers who say that symptoms attributed to the disorder have nothing at all to do with it in most cases.

“Researchers, both those associated with the studies and others who were not, said they hoped the findings would alleviate what they called inflated public fear of Lyme disease, which has been widely viewed as a grave illness that is easy to catch. In 1999, 16,019 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of them in the Northeast.

“The study to see whether a single dose of doxycycline could prevent Lyme disease was directed by Dr. Robert B. Nadelman…who said many doctors were giving 10-to 21-day courses of the antibiotic to people who had found deer ticks on their bodies in hope of stopping an infection…He recruited 482 people in Westchester County, all of whom had found deer ticks on their bodies. Half got a single dose of doxycycline and the others got two dmmy capsules for comparison. The investigators found that the drug did prevent Lyme disease: just 0.4 percent of those wo took the antibiotic got the disease. But even if people did not get any treatment, their chances of getting Lyme disease from a deer tick were just 3 percent. Lyme disease researchers emphasized, however, that most people with the infection, even the small percentage who develop serious symptoms, get better on their own. …The antibiotic has side effects and almost no one who took it would have gotten Lyme disease anyway. People who are bitten can watch the site where the tick fed and take a full course of antibiotics if a rash develops. The typical Lyme disease patient with a rash but no other symptoms takes the antibiotic and is cured.

“Two other studies addressed the treatment of people who had Lyme disease and later developed symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, and memory loss. One study enrolled patients who had antibodies to the Lyme disease microorganism, which indicated that they had been infected. The other enrolled patients who no longer had antibodies but had documented cases of Lyme disease. Half of the patients in each study received an introvenous antibiotic for a month, followed by oral doxycycline for 60 days and the others received a dummy medication. The results showed that the antibiotics were no more effective than the placebos. But Dr. Sam L. Donta, who is among those who have treated hundreds of patients with long-term antibiotics, said the drugs in the studies were not given fo a long enough time, and he would have chosen different ones. Dr. Leonard H. Sigal, a Lyme disease expert who was not associated with the studies, said the message was that ‘Lyme disease, although a problem, is not nearly as big a problem as most people think.'”

Printed in the September, 2001 Dinner Notice