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June 2006

Can Lyme Disease Become Chronic?

Simple question, complex answer.

A 2001 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared a 3-month antibiotic treatment to a placebo in patients with documented Lyme and lingering symptoms. Those who got drugs didn’t improve more than those given placebos. “The study should have put chronic Lyme theories to sleep,” says Feder. “But it didn’t.”

In February, the CDC issued a warning that some labs were using unproven tests to diagnose Lyme. Anyone who is told they have chronic Lyme needs a second opinion, says Dr. Wormser. “In most studies, over 50 percent of patients who carry this diagnosis never had any evidence of Lyme whatsoever.” Leonard Sigal, M.D., director of the Lyme Disease Center at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says that a cottage industry has sprung up under physicians with diagnostic criteria so loose that anyone with fatigue could become a Lyme patient.

Sigal insists he’s trying to save patients from futile, potentially harmful therapies that stop them from finding the true cause of their symptoms. He and other Lyme researchers have been threatened by patients who insist on long-term antibiotics. But that hasn’t altered their views. “I just wish medical science had more to offer,” Feder says.

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