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Arthritis Health Center

Another La Nina Winter Means More Lyme Disease Cases

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"Lyme disease has befuddled everyone dealing with it," says Donta. "The disease has not been taken very seriously by a number of experts. They see a swelling of the knee that goes away by itself, and they don't see it as a very serious disease. The disabling aspect is the chronic fatigue, the chronic aches and pains, the concentration problems. It's a completely disabling disease for those who get it, but it's not a killing disease."

Blood tests used to confirm the condition -- even when performed at 'Lyme disease specialty labs' -- are of variable quality, says Steven E. Schutzer, MD, lead author of a study appearing in the Nov. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Even so-called 'Lyme disease specialty labs' can produce results that are "no better, no worse, than the others [labs]," he says.

One problem is that tests thus far have picked up both 'free' antibodies from old Lyme disease infections (even a year earlier) as well as antibodies from current infections, Schutzer says. The new Lyme disease lab procedure his group has devised is capable of detecting antibodies from only the active, newly acquired infection. In a test involving 168 patients with obvious Lyme disease and 147 without the disease, 96% of those with Lyme disease tested positive, and only two of those without tested positive. "It means that the group that didn't have the classical rash ... the group that needed it most, was found to be positive," says Schutzer.

False-negative tests, when people test negative but really have the condition, are the most critical because Lyme disease treatment is most successful when initiated in the first six months, says Donta. If Lyme disease is caught within the first half-year to year, the results will be much better than if the person has had it for more than three or four years. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of symptoms people just accept because they're not overwhelming. They're almost embarrassed to go to their doctors. They feel like they should be able to put up with it. It's an insidious disease."

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