Where We Stand In the Lymelight

By Deb Mowbray

A top ten ranking isn’t always a good thing. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), Maryland stands in eighth place among the national cases of Lyme disease. Chances are you or someone you know has been bitten by ticks and affected by one or more of the infections they pass along to animals and humans. Lyme disease is the fastest growing infectious disease in our country.

The good thing for Marylanders- if there is one- is that by living in a Lyme endemic area, we should be on the cutting edge of medical treatment, diagnosing and support. The bad thing- we are also smack dab in the middle of a long-standing controversy that can prevent patients from being adequately treated.

There are two views in the Lyme debate. One is from those whose lives have been devastated by Lyme disease and the doctors who treat them; the other from those who claim there is no such thing as “chronic Lyme disease” and deny antibiotic treatment to people who are suffering. Clinical trials have proven that antibiotic treatment beyond the recommended three weeks is the only thing that enables some patients to lead a normal life and have a chance of recovering.

On the other side of the debate there are a few doctors citing evidence from limited trials that long term antibiotic treatment isn’t effective. These same doctors also stand behind the results of commonly used blood tests for Lyme. Treating physicians argue that the tests merely check for antibodies and approximately 75% of people with Lyme disease will not show positive using the standard unreliable tests.

Insurance companies routinely support the theory that minimal treatment is effective to reduce costs and in turn deny patients reimbursement for what many consider to be life-saving treatment. The costs surrounding this illness are insurmountable. Caught early and treated aggressively, early Lyme disease costs averaged $161 per patient, according to the CDC (1998). Late stage neurologic Lyme disease averages $61,243 per patient, per year, with an additional $41,199 when cardiac symptoms and arthritis are involved.

To complicate matters, ticks that carry Lyme may also carry other serious infectious diseases that are often overlooked. The CDC acknowledges that the prevalence of tick borne infections such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis and spotted fever is of growing concern.

While the verdict is still out in the case of treating chronic Lyme disease, one thing remains clear, we have a long way to go in identifying and treating the illnesses passed along by the tiny ticks that are found throughout the state. For additional information go to www.MarylandLyme.org or www.TreatTheBite.com.