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Arthritis Health Center

Antibiotics May Prevent Lyme Disease

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If you've been infected with Lyme disease without realizing it, a characteristic 'bulls-eye' rash will develop at the site of the bite within days to weeks. At that point, a 10- to 21-day course of antibiotics will be started and the success rate of treatment is about 95% or better, according to Eugene D. Shapiro, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

"There's a myth that Lyme disease produces these horrible, intractable symptoms," he says. "But the therapy is extremely effective."

He says although it's good to know the antibiotic prevention works for people at highest risk, he worries that anxiety over the threat of Lyme disease will drive some people to want to take preventive antibiotics every time they think they spot something that could be a tick on themselves, their spouse, or their children.

A small percentage of people who do contract Lyme disease will continue to have symptoms such as fatigue, arthritis, muscle and joint pain, and mood and memory problems after undergoing the standard 10- to 21-day course of antibiotics. Some doctors treat this "chronic" Lyme disease with long-term antibiotics, but few studies have shown the treatment to be effective.

Another study in the same issue of the journal confirms that taking antibiotics for longer than the standard 21-day course doesn't significantly improve how people feel or their quality of life.

Study author Mark S. Klempner, MD, reports little difference in physical or mental symptoms among people with chronic Lyme disease symptoms given 90 days of intravenous and oral antibiotic treatment or a placebo. The study included people who still had evidence of the bug that causes Lyme disease in their blood and those who did not.

Klempner, of the New England Medical Center in Boston, says although some patients will continue to have symptoms after their initial treatment with antibiotics, continuing the same treatment for months or years does not appear to be the best way to help these patients.

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