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Experts Ticked Off: What's Best for Lyme Disease?


The prevention of Lyme disease is no less controversial. Eighteen months ago, the FDA approved the first vaccine for those at high risk of tick exposure -- those 15-70 years old. Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a warning for outdoor workers to ask their doctors about vaccination.

Since the vaccine was launched, there have been numerous reports of severe arthritic reactions.

Many believe that the vaccine's genetic engineering produces arthritis in certain people. Thirty percent of the population is thought to be capable of having a reaction to the vaccine because of their specific genetic makeup.

Citing uneventful human trials with 11,000 participants, drug giant SmithKline Beecham, the maker of the vaccine, denies any association with arthritis. The FDA, which closely monitors adverse events from vaccines in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says the vaccine is not for everybody but sees no red flags for the vaccine, which is known as LYMErix. Officials at both agencies urge those at risk to weigh the risks and benefits with their doctor.

Because the LYMErix vaccine requires three injections over the course of a year and is only 70-80% effective, the CDC advises other preventive measures when working or playing in wooded areas. These measures include wearing long-sleeved shirts, tucking long pants into socks, and spraying clothing with insect repellant containing the pesticide DEET, such as OFF! and Cutter.

Prompt tick removal is even better. "Removing ticks within 36 to 48 hours is the best way to prevent the infection," says David Weld, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation. But the ticks that transmit the bacteria are often small and hard to detect.

Weld tells WebMD that many ticks are found on the back of the neck and should be removed carefully. "Remedies like matches, petroleum jelly, and nail polish remover can cause the tick to inject bacteria," he adds. "The best method is to lay a pair of tweezers on the skin and grab the tick by its neck, rather than its body."

To settle the debate about Lyme disease treatment, new research is underway. New York City's Columbia University recently received almost $5 million from the National Institutes of Health to study persistent memory and attention problems in Lyme disease victims. To determine whether a repeat course of antibiotics improves brain function in adults, MRIs and other imaging studies will be conducted afterward.

As the FDA reviews data about the safety of the Lyme disease vaccine in children, SmithKline is conducting a four-year study of those vaccinated with LYMErix.



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