Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorfere (B. burgdorferi) that is transmitted by the bite of infected ticks (deer ticks). Now that the weather is beginning to warm up in many parts of the United States and people and their pets will be spending more time outside, often with less clothing on, everyone must be vigilant to protect against contracting Lyme disease by avoiding the bite of an infected tick.
A Lyme disease vaccine was created but discontinued by its manufacturer in 2002, citing insufficient consumer demand. Since protection from Lyme disease provided by the vaccine diminishes over time, you are probably no longer protected against Lyme disease if you received the vaccine before 2002.
In 2011, 96% of all Lyme disease cases in the United States were reported from 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the United States.
Antibiotics are the primary treatment for Lyme disease and almost all patients recover after antibiotic treatment. The recommended treatment for Lyme disease varies depending upon the stage of disease and the types of symptoms. Early localized Lyme disease (the erythema migrans rash, with or without flu-like symptoms) is treated with daily oral antibiotics, usually doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime. Doxycycline is given for 10 to 21 days, and amoxicillin and cefuroxime are given for 14 to 21 days.
When Lyme disease is recognized after it has moved from the tick bite site to other locations, the recommended treatments may be either oral or intravenous antibiotics. Oral antibiotics are used for cases that are considered less serious. More serious manifestations that include meningitis and more advanced forms of heart block with moderate to severe delays in conduction are usually treated with intravenous therapy. For patients with multiple symptoms, the treatment used is dictated by the most serious manifestation. Treatment with intravenous antibiotics is typically recommended for 10 to 28 days (most commonly 14 days).
Manifestations of late Lyme disease include arthritis and neurologic conditions. In most individuals, the arthritis of late Lyme disease resolves with oral antibiotic therapy given for 28 days; intravenous antibiotics are recommended only if the arthritis does not improve with oral treatment. However, in some adults and children, arthritis persists after antibiotic therapy.
Testing Blood For Lyme Disease
The CDC currently recommends a two-step process when testing blood for evidence of antibodies against the Lyme disease bacteria. Both steps can be done using the same blood sample.
The first step uses a testing procedure called “EIA” (enzyme immunoassay) or rarely, an “IFA” (indirect immunofluorescence assay). If this first step is negative, no further testing of the specimen is recommended. If the first step is positive or indeterminate (sometimes called “equivocal”), the second step should be performed. The second step uses a test called an immunoblot test, commonly, a “Western blot” test. Results are considered positive only if the EIA/IFA and the immunoblot are both positive.
The two steps of Lyme disease testing are designed to be done together. The CDC does not recommend skipping the first test and just doing the Western blot; doing so will increase the frequency of false positive results and may lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.
Chronic Lyme Disease (Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome)
According to the CDC, approximately 10% to 20% of patients treated for Lyme disease with a recommended 2–4 week course of antibiotics will have lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches. In some cases, these can last for more than 6 months. Although often called “chronic Lyme disease,” this condition is properly known as “Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” (PTLDS). Most medical experts believe that the lingering symptoms are the result of residual damage to tissues and the immune system that occurred during the infection.
Studies have not shown that patients with PTLDS who received prolonged courses of antibiotics do better in the long run than patients treated with placebo. Long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease has been associated with serious complications. Patients with PTLDS almost always get better with time but it can take months to feel completely well.
Despite the CDC’s assurances that patients with PTLDS “almost always get better with time,” we continue to receive an increasing number of inquiries from Lyme diseases sufferers who believe that they have “chronic Lyme disease” and have not gotten any better (and many have gotten worse) despite treatment and the passage of time. Many of these people inquire whether they have a claim for medical malpractice against their health care providers who either misdiagnosed their condition and/or failed to timely diagnose and timely and appropriately treat their Lyme disease.
If you or a family member’s Lyme disease was misdiagnosed, late-diagnosed, and/or untimely and improperly treated and you or your family member suffered injuries or other harms as a result, you should promptly contact a local medical malpractice lawyer who may agree to investigate your Lyme disease claim for you and represent you in a Lyme disease malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website to be connected with Lyme disease lawyers in your state who may be able to assist you or your family member with a Lyme disease claim, or call us on our toll-free telephone line: 800-295-3959.
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