Lyme disease is one of the classic examples of an epidemic made by environmental change: As forests and fields are carved up into subdivisions, the habitat that makes the disease spread increases. The mice and deer that carry the black-legged ticks that spread Lyme disease are more numerous, as is the Lyme-causing bacteria in the mice blood, as are the people in the suburban homes where the disease is endemic.
Treating the disease has been controversial for years. While all agree that antibiotics effectively treat the illness if it is diagnosed early, many patients have complained of persistent debilitating symptoms, including arthritis and memory problems, that defy easy treatment.
Some doctors, specializing in the treatment of so-called Chronic Lyme disease, have turned to long courses of antibiotics, sometimes delivered intravenously, to treat their patients. Insurance agencies have balked at the high cost; state agencies in New York have been accused of cracking down, sometimes at the behest of insurers, on doctors who treat chronic Lyme; and medical organizations that set standards for care have generally either avoided endorsing the treatment, or actively sought to dismiss it as unproven or unsafe.
The controversy reached a head in Connecticut, where the disease was first described and given a name, after the town of Lyme. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal launched an investigation into the guidelines promoted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which say the long-course antibiotics are unsafe and unproven.
Now, to stop the investigation, the society has agreed to convene a new panel of experts to review its recommendaitons.
One can hope that the patients dealing with these chronic symptoms, assuming they are indeed caused by Lyme disease, can get the treatment, and insurance coverage, they deserve. Until and unless professional medical societies endorse new treatments, insurance agencies will justify their decisions not to cover them, and patients will not get relief.
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